The government on Thursday approved nine mega-development schemes worth Rs251 billion, including an umbrella project worth Rs70 billion to improve its response to the coronavirus pandemic and other calamities.

Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh chaired the meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), which also approved Rs38 billion Pak-China optical fibre cable scheme for fast communication between the two nations.

The Covid-19 response and other natural calamities control programme were approved by the Ecnec at a cost of Rs70 billion as a federal share, according to the statement issued by the finance ministry. The project includes National Health up-gradation programme, National programme for Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Covid-19 interventions for less developed areas, it added.

The PC-1 of the project would facilitate the national programme to improve district and tehsil headquarters’ hospitals on a 50:50 basis financial support to all provinces. Furthermore, it will improve public health surveillance separately for humans and animals and also assist in upgrading water sanitation and hygiene and local infrastructure. Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan will also be covered under the project financing.

Under the plan, projects costing up to Rs50 million and of short gestation period of up to one year will be initiated. The gestation period will be up to a maximum of two years except for the schemes meant for systemic improvements. The less developed areas and community and youth-related projects will be funded on priority basis. Projects having a provincial share in funding will be approved with their consent while the federal government will have full freedom to approve fully-funded projects.

An amount of Rs45 billion has been approved for the national programme to improve health facilities at district and tehsil headquarters. Another sum of Rs7 billion has been allocated for public health surveillance, Rs12.5 billion for a national programme of water sanitation and hygiene, Rs5 billion for the improvement in local livelihood infrastructure and Rs500 million has been earmarked for establishment cost of the project.

The Ecnec also approved phase-II of the Pak-China Optical Fiber Cable (OFC) project for the establishment of cross-border cable network between Khunjerab and Karachi along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route. The total cost of the project is Rs37.9 billion, which will provide an alternate path for international connectivity through northern border of Pakistan with China and would transform Pakistan as a digital gateway of regional connectivity, claimed the finance ministry.

The Ecnec approved a summary regarding the construction of Gwadar-Ratodero Road Project (M-8) sponsored by the Ministry of Communication and executed by the National Highway Authority (NHA) at a rationalised cost of Rs38 billion. The Ecnec approved the project given its strategic importance as it will facilitate connectivity for CPEC projects through improved road linkages, said the ministry.

A summary was presented before Ecnec regarding the provision of Advanced Skills Development through International Scholarship phase-1 for Masters and PhD programmes to be executed by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The project is part of a Prime Minister Knowledge-Economy Task Force Initiative which will enable the youth to access higher education opportunities in well-reputed international universities. Ecnec approved the project at a rationalised cost of Rs13.4 billion.

The Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme (K-IV) 260 MGD (phase-1) was also presented before Ecnec. The project would provide additional 260 MGD water to Karachi at the total cost of Rs25.5 billion. The expected period of completion is four years.

The Solid Waste Emergency and Efficiency Project (SWEEP) was approved for Rs16.8 billion including a World Bank loan of Rs16 billion. The project is designed to mitigate the risk of widespread flooding caused by inadequate solid and liquid waste management during monsoon season and to improve the Solid Waste Management (SWM) infrastructure and service delivery to transform Karachi into an eco-friendly city in the long run.

The Ecnec also approved the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Human Capital Investment Project at Rs18.9 billion. The project has been financed by the World Bank-International Development Association (IDA). The project is envisioned to upgrade basic education infrastructure in the districts of Peshawar, Haripur, Noshera and Swabi of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The project for the construction of 23 small dams in Balochistan was also approved by Ecnec at a total cost of Rs13.5 billion. The irrigation department of government of Balochistan will execute the project and it will be completed within three years.

The Ecnec also approved the dualisation and improvement project of Old Bannu road at the cost of Rs17.2 billion.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2021.

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