Islamabad: The Punjab government has started positioning the province to benefit from the western route of the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) by devising a strategy to leverage the four-lane highway for development of backward areas in its vicinity and proximity.
On the other hand, the other provincial governments are looking towards the federal administration to formulate similar policies.
Documents available with The News show that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has constituted an elaborate inter-ministerial committee comprising several members of the provincial cabinet, lawmakers, top bureaucrats and a host of representatives from the private sector to firm up a way forward by deliberating upon a working paper to draw maximum benefits from the western corridor. It will present its report to him by April 30 this year.
The working paper suggests that appropriate planning should be made to provide livelihood to local populace in the same region along the western route and discourage migration to major urban centres.
Housing colonies like satellite towns should be developed in the vicinity of interchanges at Fateh Jang, Pindigheb and Tarap so that mass migration to Islamabad and Rawalpindi is managed and discouraged. Rather this new development should provide affordable housing to residents of the two cities in the areas around the CPEC. It should help decongestion of Islamabad and Rawalpindi rather than further burdening them with influx of people.
The working paper recommended that the future development in this region can be modeled like Noida (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority), a systematically planned development in the suburbs of New Delhi.
A similar development can leverage its proximity to Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and should also be an attraction for future rural to urban migrants. Being a green field with very economical land prices this development can have potential.
The Punjab government should consider development of a ‘land bank’. Since land procurement is a big challenge for future investors, the government can facilitate this by having a land bank in all tehsils around the western route.
The working paper proposed that the provincial roads linking the CPEC western route with M2 and N5 need to be developed and dualised.
The western corridor will provide fast and world class connectivity to southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) like Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, and Karak to Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Similarly the tehsils of Mianwali, Jandh, Pindigheb will by 60-90 minutes commute from Islamabad-Rawalpindi.
This will have implications like huge rural to urban migration and inter-provincial movement of people from these districts of Punjab to the federal capital. If the interchanges are not connected to provincial and district roads, the local population will not be able to optimally benefit from the CPEC connectivity. It is important that youth is given appropriate skills, which facilitate and service future investment and enterprise development in the area.
The working paper said that the Punjab government may consider developing a five-year multi-sector plan to complement this mega project of phenomenal proportion and implications in order to reap benefits for the people of districts of Attock, Chakwal, and Mianwali. Planning with adequate funding needs to be made in various sectors with a view to getting maximum benefits for people of these underdeveloped districts.
Provincial roads and highways will be developed with a view to linking all adjoining areas to interchanges of the western route. Industrial estates should be set up in each tehsil through which the western route passes; Technical education institutes should be established in each of these tehsils. The Punjab Skill Development Company should give special focus to this area so that skilled labour force is available to service the planned industrial estates. Since the area has huge tracts of underdeveloped ‘barani’ agriculture land, special projects be developed for this region. A mega project for rain water harvesting should be launched. The agriculture department should consider special assistance through provision of bulldozers for bringing more land under cultivation. The area has many scenic and historical places that the Punjab Tourism Corporation should develop a plan for promotion of domestic tourism.
Since river Indus is adjacent to this area, the recently established Inland Water Transport Development Company (IWTDC) of Punjab should be given a special task to develop a plan to complement the western route through riverine transport and tourism. Livestock and poultry department needs to initiate special programmes. There is a need to leverage the access provided by the corridor to nearby markets, huge stock of cheap land and suitable climate. The area has huge potential for solar energy due to cheap land availability. Certain areas have a historical tradition of wildlife and sports, like tent pegging, bull race, wild boar hunting. Safari park development needs to be explored; and mines and mineral department is required to contribute. The area for cement industry development can be identified for heavy industrial development. Special policy to provide one window service to all investors in terms of regulatory permissions should be formulated. The district administrations should be given special responsibilities in this context; and the Bank of Punjab should launch special initiative to finance enterprises being developed in these areas.
The western route, starting from Hakla on M-1 near Islamabad will pass through tehsils of Fateh Jang, Jandh, Musakhel, Esakhel of districts of Attock and Mianwali. They are one of the most underdeveloped regions in Punjab. An interchange near Indus river on the corridor near Tarap in Jandh is in close proximity of Talagang tehsil of Chakwal and Balkasar interchange on M-2 is approximately 60 km from this interchange.
The western corridor is 285 km long of which approximately 230 km passes through Attock district (120 km) and Mianwali district (110 km) and 55 km through Dera Ismail Khan.
Designed for 120 km/hour speed with 100 meters right of way, it has been divided into five packages for speedy execution. Four packages pass through Punjab and one through KP. It has eleven interchanges – five in Attock at Hakla, Fateh Jang, Pindigheb (near Thatti), Pindigheb (city), Tarap-Injra and three each in Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan districts.