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Opinion News
October 15,2017

For an equal society

Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif

The arrival of the first train car for the Orange Line Metro Train project signified a major development for the project that has drawn the attention of people from across the country. Termed as China’s gift for the people of Pakistan, the funding of the project has been acquired on the softest terms and conditions that will be paid back within a span of 20 years after a grace period of seven years in between.

Upon its completion, the OLMT project will initially provide a dignified, reliable and comfortable transport facility to 250,000 passengers on a daily basis. By 2025, the number of people who are likely to enjoy this facility will increase to 0.5 million. Around 75 percent of the civil works for the project have been completed.

A certain segment of the elite and our political opponents have not digested the idea of a citizen travelling in an honourable way and have thus thrown a spanner in the works for the project. These are the people who wasted precious time on sit-ins, threatened to lock down the federal capital and resorted to protests and agitations at the throw of a hat. These elements have turned character assassination and raising baseless allegations into an art form. They are polluting the minds of our youth. It is time to expose such people and show that hard work pays off and character, honesty and determination are the building blocks for nation-building.

These people churns out misinformation that the money to be incurred on the construction of the OLMT project will go down the drain. Public transport across the world is subsidised. Should we then assume that those who drive past the citizens in their imported SUVs with a sense of disdain for them have exclusive rights on the state’s resources?

Inequalities between the haves and have-nots are among the major issues that our polity is facing. The dream of an egalitarian society – for which the millions of Muslims rendered huge sacrifices under the leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam – will remain unfulfilled unless people are provided basic necessities of life.

How is it possible that the elite enjoy a good life but when it comes to giving people their due, they take recourse to court cases to protect their privileges? Those who base their opposition to the OLMT initiative on its supposed impact on the heritage and cultural sites have never been to these places. They frequent the world’s best resorts for their yearly recreation.

When the Green Line Bus Project was launched in Lahore, a political leader showered baseless accusations on the initiative. First, he claimed that Rs70 billion were spent on the project. Upon being confronted to prove his allegation, he said that the iron of the Ittefaq Foundry was used without even realising that the Ittefaq Foundry was closed down 20 years ago. When all tactics failed to work with regard to the Green Line Bus Project, opponents targeted the OLMT project. It has now been close to two years since work on the 11 points of the project has remained suspended due to stay orders.

While the Punjab government constructed the 27-kilometre-long metro bus project at the cost of Rs30 billion, the PC-1 cost of the 23-km-long Peshawar Metro Project has been estimated at Rs44 billion, which is likely to increase by the time the project has been completed – if at all it is.

It is a matter of record that a prominent PTI leader from Lahore filed a petition against the OLMT project in the apex court. He eventually feared a strong public backlash and withdrew it within no time. With precious time lost, it will not be possible to complete the project by its timeline of December 25, 2017. However, if the honourable SC allows us, we will leave no stone unturned to complete the project as early as possible.

The OLMT project will transform people’s lives. The project will become the basis of an interaction between different classes of society by creating a sense of equality and ownership in social terms.

What is regrettable is that the relentless opposition to a public welfare project such as the OLMT initiative has come from a leader who talks of a ‘change’ and never tires of trumpeting the mantra of ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Real change happens when you truly empower the people by giving them their fundamental rights. Change means empowerment and the elimination of a class divide by establishing an egalitarian society.

What kind of leader opposes the mass transit system in Lahore when he has been unable to lay the first brick of the Peshawar Metro in well over four years? When the people of KP are afflicted with as lethal an epidemic as dengue, he goes to the mountains without giving a hoot about their hardships. When the government introduces the Kissan Support Package, he goes to the court against this welfare project to stop its benefits from accruing to farmers.

What is his net contribution to the public discourse other than poisoning the minds of the youth and promoting the politics of sabotage and hate? Will his ‘Naya Pakistan’ be built on the death of the aspirations and dreams of the people?

We are living in two Pakistans – the Pakistan of the poor citizens and the Pakistan of the affluent and the rich. Public welfare projects such as the OLMT project have delineated a clear line between the haves and the have-nots. If hurdles are created in executing such projects, which are directly linked to their welfare, we should be ready to face the blowback. We need to bring about a soft orange revolution before we are struck by hard revolutions like the ones that swept Ukraine, Egypt and Tunisia. In the final fight for rights, I will be standing with my people against the elitist and privileged system.

Those opposing the OLMT project out of the fear that it will swell the vote bank of the PML-N are in the wrong. The people know who started this project and who is creating hurdles in its implementation. The elections in 2018 will be the occasion when our political opponents will get a taste of their own medicine.

The OLMT initiative is a project that I have invested my political capital in as it represents the aspirations of the people. This project will surely serve as a game-changer. It will be a trend-setter and provide quality transport services to commuters.

This article has been excerpted from the speech that the Punjab chief minister delivered at a ceremony held to mark the arrival of the rolling stock of OLMT on October 8.

The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.

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