SC directs ML-1 railway project to be completed in 2 years, KCR in 3 months

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday said that the ML-1 train line should be made fully functional in the next two years while the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project should be completed in the next three months.

A three member bench — comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah — heard a case pertaining to the losses incurred by Pakistan Railways.

There will be dire consequences if the timeline given for the completion of the railway projects is not followed strictly, the court warned.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the court that 85 per cent of the track for KCR has been cleared.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

“We carried out an operation last night as well and razed a few buildings to the ground,” Rashid said, assuring the court that work was being done to make KCR functional again.

Rashid also thanked the court for taking interest in the case, “We are grateful to you, a lot of work has been done in the past 12 days,” he said.

“We are grateful to you, the whole nation is grateful,” Justice Gulzar said in response while adding that the KCR is a “project for the people and not one individual. We want to bring good to people.”

“Do not give the KCR project to Sindh government, keep it with yourself,” Justice Gulzar told Sheikh Rashid while adding that KCR will end up like the Karachi transport system.

“We were hoping to even run trams in Karachi,” the chief justice said.

He also asked the railways minister why the KCR was made part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “We added it to CPEC because of [our] financial situation,” Rashid responded.

“China will give an expensive loan for KCR,” the chief justice observed.

“If railways sells off some of its land it will be able to fix its own financial situation,” the chief justice said. “Selling a single property from Karachi will fix the railway’s financial system. But the court has put a stay on selling these properties,” Rashid responded.

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, who had been summoned to present the business plan for railways to the court, said that completing the project in three months will not be possible.

“You are saying that this can’t be done […] the project will be faced with delays while people are waiting for it [to be finished],” said the chief justice while stressing that that Pakistan Railways should not let its people sleep and “order them to work.”

“Sheikh sahib when will the ribbon be cut for the project?” the chief justice asked about the KCR project.

“The country’s financial situation is not too well at the moment. The real issue is that a large amount of funding is required for this project,” Umar told the court in response.

“The Japanese people have been asking you over and over again about this project,” the chief justice said to which Umar responded that the Sindh government will have to provide an answer for that.

Hearing this, the bench summoned a reply on the matter from the Sindh government in the next hearing. Umar also asked the court to tell the Sindh government to ensure action on the KCR project.

“Asad Umar, you are very respectable for us but you are not doing anything for railways,” the chief justice said.

“We will present the 1,880 kilometres-long ML-1 project in front of the CDWP on March 10,” Umar responded while adding that the project will also be approved by Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on April 12,” Umar told the court in response.

The court then enquired about the timeline for the completion of the project.

“From the day that it starts, the project will be finished in five years,” Rashid told the court while adding that the Chinese will also be “satisfied with this project.”

The hearing of the case pertaining to losses incurred by railways was adjourned for two months.

The hearing on KCR was adjourned until Feb 21; the next one will be held at the SC Karachi registry, where the railways minister and the Sindh chief secretary have been summoned.


Haj to cost Rs490,000 under govt scheme

ISLAMABAD: As inflation has hit every activity, performing Haj has also become costlier this year, but the government claims that it has curtailed Haj expenses to the maximum extent.

The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved Haj Policy 2020 under which Haj under government scheme will cost Rs490,000 to each pilgrim with 7.35 per cent increase as compared to the cost of Haj in 2019.

However, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said at a press conference that the government had curtailed Haj expenses to the maximum possible extent otherwise it could have cost Rs540,000 to each pilgrim.

“Devaluation of rupee, inflation and increased air fares and accommodation expenses in Saudi Arabia are the main factors behind the slight increase in the cost of Haj,” he added.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

He said this year every pilgrim from any country had to pay additional 410 Riyals to the Saudi government because 300 Riyals would be charged at the time of issuance of visa and 110 Riyal as health insurance.

The minister said this year 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims would perform Haj, 60pc of them under the government quota and 40pc under private tour operators’ quota.

Under the Haj Policy 2020, Rs490,000 (with Qurbani), has been fixed for Haj for individuals from the north side of the country and Rs480,000 for the south. Last year Rs456,426 (with Qurbani) were charged for north and Rs436,975 (with Qurbani) for pilgrims from the south side.

The minister claimed that this year pilgrims would be given more facilities and all arrangements had been made to provide them ease during Haj.

PM reaches across divide for advice on economy

ISLAMABAD: As the government grapples with the question of raising additional revenue amid a sharply slowing economy, it has turned to a former PML-N senator, Haroon Akhtar Khan, for assistance in meeting what increasingly appears to be an impossible revenue target.

Word of a briefing to the prime minister by Mr Khan trickled out on the same day that news broke of departure of Shabbar Zaidi from the position of chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Well-placed sources in the PM office told media that Mr Khan — a younger brother of Humayun Akhtar Khan, who contested on a PTI seat from Lahore — was invited to give his thoughts on matters ranging from rising prices to slowing GDP growth.

The briefing was attended among others by Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood and Planning Minister Asad Umar. Mr Khan reportedly pointed towards policy failures as the contributory factor in the rising food inflation in the country.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

When contacted for his comment on the briefing, Mr Shaikh downplayed the importance of the meeting. “A lot of meetings like this take place,” he said.

Search begins for a new FBR chief as Shabbar Zaidi confirms intention to leave office

“He [Mr Khan] had some good ideas on the economy and is a seasoned hand on revenue matters,” he said but categorically denied talk of any changes in the portfolios. He neither confirmed nor denied that Mr Khan had been offered the portfolio of revenue adviser, which Mr Shaikh currently holds himself.

According to sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan also had a one-to-one meeting with Mr Khan. It was during this meeting that he was reportedly offered the position of revenue minister, or adviser. The sources say Mr Khan has asked for a few days to take a decision.

Mr Khan served as a revenue minister in the Nawaz Sharif government. One sticking point in the matter is whether he will remain independent and report to the prime minister or work under Mr Shaikh.

Some history haunts the decision. Soon after the appointment of Mr Shaikh as the PM’s adviser on finance, revenue and economic affairs, the government tried to allocate the portfolio of revenue to Hammad Azhar, who was supposed to become the federal revenue minister after the budget speech. That decision saw a quick reversal as the portfolio was taken back from Mr Azhar and returned to Mr Shaikh within days.

Similar tensions existed between FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi and Mr Shaikh as the former began reporting directly to the prime minister on revenue matters. Mr Shaikh was never invited to the FBR officially, only making one visit on the first day of the new year when he was widely reported to have conveyed his dissatisfaction on the performance of the revenue board.

Meanwhile, sources in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat have confirmed that a search for a replacement for Mr Zaidi has begun.

Mr Zaidi himself has confirmed that he has asked the prime minister to begin this search, but he has yet to submit his resignation. In the event Mr Khan accepts the offer that has reportedly been made to him, he will suggest someone to fill the post.