[The News] As he broke ground in Lahore of the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Tuesday that he felt like he could see the “Naya Pakistan” that he dreams of.
‘The project features more than six million trees and three barrages that are 46-metres long and can hold 600,000 cusecs of water’
The premier, while addressing the ceremony, said he envisions it to be a project which will be emulated by other cities in the future.
“It is important to dream big to achieve great things in life,” the premier remarked.
PM Imran said the media is always questioning people about the Naya Pakistan they were promised. “If you ask a person tired of rising inflation such a question then of course, it’s not as if they will shower praise,” said the premier.
He said it must be understood that when past rulers leave a country deep in debt, belt-tightening measures have to be pursued and tough times as a consequence are only natural.
“This does not mean that you diminish the scope of your dreams.
“Anyone who every accomplished anything was not because of his capabilities, or how educated he was, or how rich, but because he dreamt big,” the premier told the gathering.
Referring to Edmund Hillary — the first man to scale Mount Everest — he said that it is the dream that takes people far.
He further quoted the saying: “Do not judge a person by what he is but what he aspires to be.”
The prime minister said we do not recognise our full potential because we have a very limited view of things.
“Our thinking is such that when we come into power, we make our sugar mills, put up factories, make money and purchase homes in London and that’s the extent of it.
“Big thinkers are like Mahathir Mohammad. He has made a new city in Malaysia and it worth seeing. Their capital was made by Mahathir Mohammad. When he was starting out, people told him he would fail. Look at what he has achieved. Any big achievement always starts out as a dream,” the prime minister said.
He said when he learnt of the Ravi project and how it had been planned since long before. “I know why it did not succeed. Because the people who had envisioned it, did not have their country as their number one priority. Their number one priority was amassing their own wealth.”
The premier said that he recognises this is a tough task and there “will be hurdles”.
“But we have to see that this is Lahore’s need and it is Pakistan’s need.”
He said 40% of Lahore is made up of informal settlements. “Because we never thought of where the poor people will live. That is because Pakistan’s mindset has always been an elitist one. And that is why we were unable to achieve our potential. Because all our decisions are catered to the elite.”
Citing the state of Madina which was founded on the principles of a welfare state, he said the rulers of the time first thought of the poor. He also quoted China’s example where they brought 700 million people out of poverty and are now the fastest growing economy.
The prime minister said this is the dream that is “Naya Pakistan”, adding that now for the first time, health insurance is guaranteed for every citizen of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“We first started our Panah Gahs and now we have set standards for them. Their food, their bed sheets, their washing areas, hot water are all being held to high standards […] we will tell them this is your Pakistan.”
The premier said that from now on, any housing society will include housing for the poor.
“We have introduced a Rs30 billion package for subsidised housing. We will offer a 5% interest rate if they obtain loans from banks. For the first time the low salaried and poor segments of society will have the opportunity to buy their own home.”
He said the Ravi project will also feature affordable housing.
Speaking of the Ehsaas Programme, which he termed “Pakistan’s biggest poverty alleviation programme in history”, he said that Rs200 billion had been earmarked which will be utilised for cheap loans, skill development, scholarships and animal farming in villages, and programmes targeted to address stunting in children.
Moving on to Lahore’s water supply issues which stem from fast-depleting groundwater levels, he said that the Ravi waterfront project is aimed at improving the supply of water.
He said the sewerage system which is part of the project will also target the waste that is thrown into the ravi river. “The Supreme Court asked the Sindh government why there is arsenic in the water there […] people are drinking water that is leading to diseases like Hepatitis.”
“We will pump water into the Ravi river which has been treated […] so this project will also lead to Ravi’s rejuvenation.”
He said the project will also pay special attention to plentiful green cover.
Addressing the project chairman Rashid Aziz, he assured the government’s full support and urged him to expedite its start as there is great national as well as international interest in it.
He said that project will be funded through a public-private partnership with the money invested through the private sector. “The biggest contribution will be made through our greatest asset — our overseas Pakistanis.”
Earlier, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar addressed the gathering, regretting that the Ravi river, which has always been a major part of Lahore’s identity, has been reduced to a “dirty stream”.
He said that the new city will be an environment-friendly project featuring more than six million trees and three barrages that are 46-metres long and can hold 600,000 cusecs of water.
Buzdar said that Lahore’s current water levels have dropped to 800 feet and “when these dams are developed and water is stored, the underground water tables will rise”.
“The city will feature 12 zones which will herald a new phase of progress.”
The chief minister said that the project will include 1.8 million housing units, will provide employment to 1.2 million people and 90-95% of the material used will be Pakistan’s own.
He said that the government is focused on the development of the city and the country and hoped that the project will be remembered as a pivotal one in history.
Buzdar said that an independent, autonomous body named the River Ravi Authority has been formed to oversee the project and no other department will be allowed to meddle in its affairs.
“I am confident over the next three years this project will work at full speed and soon we will see the birth of a new city.”