The country’s highest project sanctioning authority on Wednesday approved 10 mega schemes costing over Rs300 billion but could not build consensus on the second phase of Greater Thal Canal project due to opposition from Sindh.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Shaukat Tarin chaired a meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec), which agreed to drop a project of installing smart electricity meters in Lahore.

Ecnec, for the third time, took up a project which was being pushed as an alternative to the prime minister’s promise to vacate his official residence.

The committee deferred decision on the Greater Thal Canal project with directives to relevant stakeholders, both at federal and provincial levels, to reach consensus prior to its re-submission to Ecnec, according to a statement issued by the finance ministry after the meeting.

The project costing Rs19.3 billion has been planned to provide irrigation water for around 294,110 acres of land in the districts of Layyah, Bhakkar and Khushab in Punjab.

However, during the meeting, a Sindh government representative strongly opposed the project due to its adverse impact on livelihoods in the province, said an official who attended the meeting.

The Punjab government was of the view that it did not require a fresh no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) for the Greater Thal Canal project.

Under the water accord, allocations have been made for the project for the Kharif season in addition to which surplus flood flows will also be available. The project will help increase crop production from 12,032 tons per annum to 378,270 tons.

The length of the Chaubara branch canal will be 72 km in addition to 241 km of distributaries.

Planning Minister Asad Umar recommended the constitution of a sub-committee to resolve the dispute between Sindh and Punjab.

Ecnec approved the Pakistan Optical Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS-02) project of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) at a cost of Rs28 billion. PRSS-02 is planned as a successor to PRSS-01, which will complete its operational life in 2025.

The committee approved the Sialkot-Kharian Motorway project at a cost of Rs43.4 billion, with directives to the National Highway Authority to report progress on the development of a business model to the ECC.

Ecnec approved the New Gwadar International Airport project at a revised cost of Rs51.3 billion, showing an increase of 138% in its construction price within five years amid slow progress on this China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) scheme.

The project was part of phase-I of CPEC which was supposed to be completed by 2018. However, the construction of the new airport is falling behind schedule along with dozens of other CPEC projects.

Ecnec agreed to drop the project of installing smart meters within the jurisdiction of Lahore Electricity Supply Company. This will give a jolt to the plan of reducing losses and electricity theft.

The committee approved changes to shift the scope of $455 million Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project. The ADB had approved $400 million for the project in November 2015.

Ecnec approved the shelving of Lahore component of the project. It allowed the conversion of Islamabad jurisdiction project of Rs16.9 billion into a pilot scheme.

Though the Manila-based lender had approved the $400 million loan, work on the project never began due to reluctance of the Power Division.

Since the beginning, Pakistan had not been ready to receive the loan due to differences over the use of imported technology and the plan to privatise all power distribution companies under the then $6.2 billion IMF programme.

The committee was informed that the government was continuously paying commitment charges on the undisbursed amount, which had added up to $2.2 million.

Ecnec directed the Power Division to hold an inquiry into the delay in implementation of the project and document the reasons for delay, accumulation of commitment charges and fix responsibility.

The committee approved the Remodeling of Warsak Canal System in Peshawar and Nowshera districts worth Rs16.7 billion. The second revised PC-1 was considered on the basis of 50:50 cost-sharing between federal and provincial governments.

Any variation in the cost of the project will be borne by the provincial government, according to the decision.

Ecnec approved the Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP-revised) project worth Rs12.8 billion, to be financed by the World Bank. Project activities will be undertaken throughout Pakistan.

In an interesting development, Ecnec for the third time in the past five months took up the Pak University of Engineering and Emerging Technologies (PUEET) Phase-I project, which in essence was an alternative to the PM’s election promise of converting his official residence into a university.

But instead of vacating the official residence, the government has now planned a project costing Rs23.5 billion, which Ecnec approved on Wednesday. The government will construct the university at a site that is adjacent to the PM House.

The project faced many issues at the planning stage, including the observations made by the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) in March this year.

Ecnec gave approval to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Cities Improvement Project (KPCIP) at a cost of Rs97.2 billion. KPCIP will improve the quality of life of the residents of five K-P cities, which include Abbottabad, Kohat, Mardan, Mingora and Peshawar, directly benefitting about 6 million of the urban population.

The committee approved the construction of 10th Avenue from IJP Road to Srinagar Highway, Islamabad at a total cost of Rs12.2 billion. The project will be executed in two phases and will be completed in two years.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2021.

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