‘Country at tipping point, with only progress ahead,’ says PM Khan at launch of Ravi riverfront project

LAHORE: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that the country has now reached a “tipping point” after which it will only see progress.

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His remarks came at the inauguration ceremony in Lahore of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project.

The premier said two years were spent saving the country from default. “And then the NRO crowd gathered around everywhere, demanding an NRO (concession) in exchange for FATF legislation or progress on the Kashmir issue.”

Speaking of the importance of the project, for which he laid the foundation, he said that it is instrumental if Lahore has to be saved.

“The rate at which our population is growing, if we are to save Lahore, the river Ravi project is something that is totally unavoidable now,” he said, while addressing the inauguration ceremony.

PM Imran recalled the former glory days of the provincial capital, where trees would dot the city’s landscape and the water was sweet to drink.

“When I was growing up in Lahore we used to have tap water. It was sweet water and we never dreamed we would need bottled water. During my time in Zaman Park, there was no sign of pollution. The sky was clean. We would wait for winter so we could bask in the sun’s warmth. It was a clean city. A city where gardens and big open green areas were plentiful.

“As the population grew and the city expanded, Zaman Park which used to be on the outskirts of the city, moved past the Centre and on to the other side. That’s how fast the city grew,” said the prime minister.

“Whereas we used to bask in the sun, there is so much pollution lining the skies now that there is hardly any sunlight. In November you will not find any sunlight,” lamented the premier.

He said that the city’s water level has also dropped drastically. “In the last 15 years, I think it has dropped 800 feet.”

“When you are flying into the city you can see the unplanned settlements from above. The green areas are on the decline. There will be food security issues. Pakistan has never witnessed wheat shortages before but now we have seen a drop by 1.5 million tonnes.

“Our crop growing areas are reducing. We used to have a lot of cotton growing areas. We used to export the commodity. More sugarcane growing is also a factor,” he continued.

“But the point is, Lahore has changed dramatically,” he added.

“This river used to be such a big river and has now shrunk into nothing but a sewerage stream […] it stinks in the winter.”

He said that one must have no doubt of the dire need of the project. “Without this, Lahore will see water problems that Karachi faces today.”

The premier said that the pollution levels in Lahore are “off the charts, way beyond what adversely affects the health”.

He said with unplanned settlements springing up everywhere, it has become necessary to make Lahore a modern city with all the modern amenities.

“Modern cities grow vertically, not horizontally, and it is then easier for the government to take care of their needs like water and sewerage.”

Project to bring ‘chain reaction’ of benefits

The premier then went on to detail the government’s plans for the river project.

He said to save the river, extra water will be released into it and more barrages created.

“And the sewerage that is coming into the river will be treated and clean water released back,” he said.

PM Imran said with this, not only will the river’s depleted water levels be restored but the city’s water supply will no longer be threatened.

“Lahore will be saved, the water problem solved, and a modern city will be created keeping in mind all environmental concerns,” he said, adding that six million trees will be planted in a demarcated “forest area”.

He said that the project will cost Rs5 trillion. “Of course it will be funded by private investment, not the government,” he clarified.

The prime minister said that with the coronavirus, the country had been accorded reprieve to be able to inject capital from the informal economy into projects — previously unallowed due to obligations to international financial organisations.

“Now we have till December 31 to make use of funds from the informal economy as well.”

He said that it was a splendid opportunity for overseas Pakistanis, who usually only invest in “plots”. “These nine million overseas Pakistanis have money equivalent to Pakistan’s GDP.”

Also, it will go a long way for job creation, he said. “There are 40 other industries associated with the construction sector.”

“Furthermore, it will lead to wealth creation. With this wealth, we will be able to spend on the underprivileged sections of society, on children’s education, and on the health sector,” the premier added.

He also said that with the accrued monetary gains, the mounting debt of the country will be reduced.

The premier said he will personally oversee the project, which has been sought after since 2004 and which he is undertaking after “burning all boats” so there is no option of going back.

“Failure is not an option”, he added.

He said previously projects such as the Metro, or Orange Train were completed but “they are not the type to lead to wealth creation”. “In fact, you will end up giving Rs28bn in subsidy for those projects which you created after heavy borrowing.”

The premier said with a project such as this, wealth creation is made possible, along with job creation and a host of other benefits. “A chain reaction is witnessed in the country. Such projects boost the economy.”

PTI MPA Musarrat Cheema said that the project will be a “game-changer” for Lahore and will benefit the public.

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