Four new schemes to be part of CPEC

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China are set to make four new infrastructure schemes worth $8 billion part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor next week but prospects for early inclusion of Punjab government’s Orange Line Metro project and the Karachi Circular Railway remain bleak. The inclusion of the four schemes would increase the size of CPEC to nearly $54 billion.

The upcoming sixth meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee, the highest decision-making body of CPEC, would be different from past five meetings. This time, all chief ministers for the first time are expected to attend the JCC. Each of them would be seeking inclusion of mass transit projects in their provincial capitals in the CPEC framework, according to officials of the Planning Ministry.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif would be keen to get the $1.6 billion Orange Line Metro project into CPEC to win Rs20 billion tax concessions. Punjab government would also seek inclusion of a $662 million steel mill project, which is planned to be set up at Chiniot, in the CPEC framework, according to Punjab’s planning minister.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah would want the much-delayed $2.6 billion Karachi Circular Railway to get a place in CPEC after the Japanese have apparently backed out. K-P Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak has also forwarded the proposal of a Peshawar Metro bus project to be made part of CPEC while the Balochistan chief minister would like to have the Quetta Light Rail project in the CPEC.

However, none of these four mass transit projects would be officially made part of the CPEC, during the upcoming JCC meeting. The Joint Working Group on Infrastructure has not discussed these projects, which is a prerequisite, said sources in the planning ministry. The agenda of the JCC, which will meet in Beijing, has already been finalised, they said. However, the expectations are that the JCC would forward these projects to the respective working group for its technical and financial evaluation, the sources said.

Few days back, the Sindh CM requested the prime minister to make the Karachi Circular Railway a part of the CPEC framework, said Ahsan Iqbal on Thursday. A planning ministry official said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has set up a committee under the joint leadership of Member Infrastructure of Planning Commission Malik Ahmad Khan and Additional Chief Secretary Sindh. The joint committee would work to resolve the issue of land between Pakistan Railways and the Sindh government for smooth execution of the Karachi Circular Railway.

Pakistan Railways has demanded money in return for land, which the Sindh government is not eager to pay due to its impact on the cost of the project, said the officials. However, if Karachi Circular Railway eventually becomes part of the CPEC framework, the provincial government may get concessional financing from China like the one offered to Orange Line Metro project.

Japan International Cooperation Agency has not responded to our numerous letters, therefore, we have decided to seek Chinese financial assistance, said Nasir Shah, Sindh Minister for Transport while talking to The Express Tribune. He said that Sindh government has also forwarded Keti Bandar Seaport project for its inclusion into the CPEC framework.

New projects

It is expected that the JCC would announce to include four new infrastructure projects in the CPEC framework, according to the sources. They said that ML-I Peshwar-Karachi railway line project would be formally added into the CPEC framework. The total cost of the project is over $8 billion out of which China is expected to give $5.5 billion loan.

The JCC may also approve to include three projects of National Highway Authority (NHA) into the CPEC framework. These include $200 million Khuzdar-Basima road project, Dera Ismail Khan-Zohb project of western route worth $800 million and a missing section of Thakot-Havelian of the eastern route, said the sources.