Govt coins new term for squatters on state lands – Encroachers on KCR land to be treated as ‘project affected people’, to be given alternate plots, cash assistance

KARACHI: The provincial government has coined a new catchy term of ‘project affected people’ for the grabbers of Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) land. Not only no legal action would be taken against them for grabbing the State land, but they would also be given alternate plots and cash assistance.

Sindh senior minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro leading a three-member ministerial team on revival of KCR, told a press conference at the committee room of Sindh assembly here Wednesday that work on this lingering surface-rail based public transport project would be initiated as soon as a formal agreement is inked with the stakeholders.

He said the provincial government formed the ministerial committee consisting on Sindh senior minister, revenue minister and transport minister to work on the KCR revival. He said during last cabinet meeting it was approved to give tax exemption on materials and equipment required for this project. He said public transport is a lingering issue of 20million Karachiites and government is taking steps to facilitate these hapless commuters including women, children and elderly people. He said eight years ago in 2005 Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) agreed to give loan on very soft terms for the revival of KCR, but due to multiple reasons the project could not be initiated during this period. He admitted that due to this long delay the cost of the project has already gone up from $1.5billion to $2.67billion.

He said now a survey has been completed to relocate about 4600 house units spread over 70 acres of land from 9 places of the grabbed KCR track. He said an area of 280 acres of railway land in Shah Latif Town has been earmarked to resettle these squatters. He said for each housing unit an alternate plot of 80 square yards would be allotted and all funding in this regard would be met from the foreign loan of JICA. He said moreover Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) would give Rs50000 cash assistance to each relocated household. He said the government is even not calling these squatters ‘illegal encroachers or land grabbers’ but terming them as ‘project affected people’.

When asked why the Sindh government is displacing the flood affected people of interior Sindh who made their huts on government lands in Karachi, but at the same time it was facilitating the people of other provinces who have illegally grabbed the government lands of KCR in the same city, the minister said the citizens of Pakistan could live in any province of the country.

When asked why no action is being taken for grabbing the government lands of KCR, he said similar resettlement treatment has already been given to the land grabbers on Lyari Expressway (LEW) lands and other big projects. When asked why no action was taken against the officials who let these precious government lands going grabbed and costly tracks and other railway infrastructure of the KCR damaged, the minister could not give a satisfactory answer.

The media asked the minister who would protect this costly $2billion project in the volatile city like Karachi. Khuhro said the people themselves would protect it. When asked what is the assurance that after spending of hefty $2billion foreign loans the fate of the new project would not be different from the existing KCR project, the minister said he was an optimist and hope things would go better in future.

When asked that it is a standard practice all over the world to run a pilot project before actually working on massive development schemes to assess their workability and why such pilot project of the KCR is not being initiated, his answer was that the KCP project itself is the pilot project for whole Pakistan.

When asked that the JICA had already ditched this project due to its inordinate delay, he said there may be some reservations of stakeholders due to the delay but he thinks the KCR is not a dead project. He said the act of giving tax exemptions for this project by the Sindh government shows that the stakeholders are serious to work on this project.

Khuhro said the tentative period of the completion of this project would be five years, provided an agreement is inked in this regard with the stakeholders. When asked when the inking of this agreement is expected, he said ‘soon’.

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