CPEC’s potential won’t be realised if planning and financial allocations happen at a snail’s pace
I had written in these columns (May 29) that the “Annual Plan Coordination Committee meeting on May 26 left no doubt where the priority lies” and that “the eastern route has become a fait accompli”. Now the executing agency of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the National Highway Authority (NHA), has informed the Senate Committee on Communication that the allocation for the western route is Rs20 billion compared to Rs110 billion for the eastern alignment. This allocation pattern confirms that the assurances given by the prime minister, at an All Parties Conference on the subject and the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the implementation of the CPEC, were just eyewash.
The first task of the committee should have been to analyse the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2015-16 before letting its chairman assert on October 8 that “the western route would be given top priority because the CPEC has to be a corridor of national unity bringing peace and prosperity to all provinces, particularly the less developed areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan”. It should do its homework before hearing the NHA chairman in the next meeting scheduled on October 28.
The parliamentary committee should know that, out of the allocated amount of Rs20 billion, not a penny was released until October 16. The PSDP showed five projects under the label of eastern alignment. Four of these are old, ongoing projects linking Quetta with Gwadar. The first one, approved in 1999, is the Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab project completed as part of the M8 going to Ratodero in Sindh. Widening and improvement of the N85, Hoshab-Nag-Basima-Surab Road, was approved in September 2007. The third, Zhob Mughal Kot N50, is an Asian Development Bank-assisted project approved in 2010. The fourth project, Rehabilitation of Mughal Kot-D I Khan Section, was approved in April 2015. It is foreign assisted. All these projects cover 800kms of the western route. Over 2,300kms of new construction is required to complete it. Added, in the face of mounting criticism, the fifth project — Land Acquisition/Construction of Western Alignment and other CPEC Projects — has a blanket allocation of Rs10 billion, but no details have been provided for this project.
Two projects have been approved under the head of Northern Alignment. The first is the construction of the Burhan-Havelian Expressway, while the second is the Thakot to Havelian Phase I project. A third unapproved project, but included in the PSDP, relates to land acquisition for the second project. Together, these projects will cost Rs143 billion. An allocation of Rs27.5 billion has been made for 2015-16, including foreign assistance of Rs14.65 billion.
While the western and northern alignments have been specifically mentioned and their projects identified, the mention of the eastern alignment has been avoided in the PSDP. The projects related to this alignment have not been described as CPEC projects. But the NHA seems to know about these projects; otherwise, it could not have given information on their allocations. An unapproved project, construction of the Islamabad-Mianwali-D I Khan CPEC Route, including land acquisition and technical study, has been made part of the PSDP. The total cost is Rs60 billion, with an allocation of Rs10 billion in the current year. This aligns the eastern route with the western one.
The military operation is necessary to end terrorism, but is not sufficient to root it out completely. The western alignment has the potential to be the development concomitant of the operation, but this won’t happen if planning, financial allocations and releases happen at a snail’s pace. Poverty, said Gunnar Myrdal, perpetuates poverty. Rapid investment in the western route can break this vicious circle.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2015.
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