‘Metronomics’ in Lahore: We may be heading for an ‘F’

Published: June 17, 2014

Undoubtedly, the train is a testimony to Shahbaz Sharif’s can-do spirit and his knack for striking lucrative deals.But the minister needs to realise that he is the in-charge of Punjab – not Lahore’s mayor or minister for transportation. PHOTO: FILE

What brings economic progress to a country? Social scientists have argued for good institutions, trade-suited geographical placement, favourable climatic conditions, cultural homogeneity among a country’s peoples, and – lo and behold – even their superior genetic makeup. Yet, no sociologist has suggested relegating the laws of economics to history’s waste bin.

Endowments of nature (such as those listed above) are important indeed, but their apt utilisation (good economics) is much more important.

Fiscally speaking, any new project a public official decides to pursue needs a thorough pre-evaluation by experts. Economists have tools to compare a given project’s usefulness to other potential ones. However, things in Lahore seem to be following a different course. And the latest metro train is a case in point. If an economist were involved into the evaluation process, they would have asked at least three questions to begin with.

1. Will the train positively impact economic efficiency? Will it contribute as much to the national production as possible for as little as manageable?

2. Will it result in a fairer (re-) distribution of wealth; that is, greater equity?

3. Will it be sustainable? What will the project’s effects on environment be?

Let us consider these three aspects separately.


Economists find infrastructural investments vital for improving productivity. Even so, Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr Theo Notteboom (2009) note,

“…several transportation investments can be wealth consuming if they merely provide convenience… or service a market size well below any possible economic return with, for instance, projects labelled ‘bridges to nowhere’. In such a context, transport investment projects can be counterproductive…”

The key word here is ‘counterproductive’.

On the other hand, simply laying a few roads or a rail to the coal sites of the country could unlock precious treasures of energy. Mechanisation and technical advice in agriculture, similarly, could as much as double the per acre yields in majority of the country’s farms.


Travelling at a greater level of comfort at a relatively lower price will be a good measure of the equity effects of a train. As the metro train is set to serve the affluent and the less provided for areas of the city equally, there is hope for a slice of comfort for the poorer segments too.

But was Lahore the most in-need city?

Cheema et al. (2008) found Lahore to be among the richest districts of Punjab already. Southern Punjab has the highest proportion of poorest households in contrast – and poverty there is more intense than anywhere else in the province.

Let’s ideate something radically different.

The money from China for this luxury train could have been channelled to support the poor women of Punjab. The government could have teamed up with an NGO to provide technical, marketing, and monetary assistance for export of pottery, handicrafts and other regional stuff foreigners find interest in. This would not only have improved private consumption, but human capital would also have risen, because women are likelier to spend on children than men – a fact established by many studies.


Lastly comes – the ever residual issue of – environment. As commuters switch from their own conveyances to the train, there is something in the argument of a lessening of noise and air pollution. These effects, however, would be meagre.

Some cons would inevitably be there. Already, there is quite a hullabaloo about the effects of the metro bus on Islamabad’s greens. There is little to believe that the environmentally conscious persons of Lahore will welcome the Orange line with arms wide open. They will definitely want to save their precious little trees.

Could investment in some other project be more effective? Take sanitation, for instance.

Over 93 million people (more than half the population) in Pakistan don’t have access to adequate sanitation. Over 40,000 children die of diarrhoea every year. In the Northern and Central Punjab 79% water sources of the functional Water Supply Schemes (WSS) are not safe for drinking purposes, with biological contamination present in all water samples. Come Lahore and there is evidence of ‘alarming’ water contamination, imposing a threat to human – especially children’s – health (Hamid et al., 2013).

Undoubtedly, the train is a testimony to Shahbaz Sharif’s can-do spirit and his knack for striking lucrative deals. We appreciate him for that wholeheartedly. But the minister needs to realise that he is the in-charge of Punjab – not Lahore’s mayor or minister for transportation. Bearing a broader vision could have more far-reaching effects than over-and-over-again investments in roads, rails and bridges. In view of this, any upcoming project should be based on objective evaluation rather than reverie.

Usman Masood

Usman Masood

A graduate of the London School of Economics where he studied Political Economy of Development. He holds interest in Sufism, languages, alternative medicine, and farming among other as varied things. He tweets @Masood_U (twitter.com/Masood_u)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Bashir A

    The money was given specifically for metro train, not for any other purpose. Get your facts correct before writing a blog.Recommend

  • Trilok Singh

    The Metro will be an engine of progress,creating employment and tourism across the border if you choose to be friends with your neighbors .Recommend

  • Oats

    It is true that there many problems related to poverty which affect Pakistan like most developing countries but to undervalue the importance of infrastructure is a mistake in itself. We all know that money spent on infrastructure projects makes Pakistan more productive and improves industry. Can you argue that Punjab is making great strides compared to all provinces due to the hard work of Shahbaz Sharif? Imagine a Pakistan without the motorways which now are an essential part of travel. You forget that the Chinese made a decision to fund the Lahore train with the provincial government because they think they will get their investment money back – not because they are trying to help the whole country. This Orange Line is a win win. I have seen how projects that benefit Lahore will benefit other parts of the country. I am not from Lahore but I see that many cities of Punjab are benefitting from projects so to paint a Lahore centric picture of development is false.Recommend

  • raimunir

    Metro could be a fruitful project if the country were politically and socially stable and mature. Second, such projects are simply illogical when certain other dimensions are there to be given much importance. Sasti Roti, Laptop Scheme and Metro, all these projects show the hasty nature of the current politicians who are truly non professional and lack vision to cater the problems as per need. This article is an accurate analysis based upon data and endorsed by well established think tanks.

  • Waseem

    I think Pakistan and INdia have same weather and isuues , Pakistan should follow the
    Indian Model .We can look the fastest devloping state of Inida Karnatka , WHich has 200 engineering universities while population is half to PAk Punjab , However Sharif Brod did not build single engineering university in last 7 years.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4iOMDejCR4 Also take example we can see ; Bangladesh , and We can invest in Universities as INdia did http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNwfqy_r5m4.

    Bangladesh receives nearly half of its total remittances from India.


    Migrant workers from the impoverished South Asian country sent home $14 billion last year, according to the World Bank. Bangladeshi workers in India transferred more than $6.6 billion to their home country, making them the biggest source of remittances to Bangladesh. This is more than four times the money being sent from Saudi Arabia, the second-highest contributor.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The man has his priorities……..BACKWARDS.Recommend

  • aots

    Yes, Punjab is ‘making great strides compared to all provinces due to the hard work of Shahbaz Sharif’, we can see this from the police brutality from yesterday. I think you should not forget the great services of characters like Gullu Butt. After all, he is the loin of Punjab and right hand man of Showbaz Sharif in model town.Recommend

  • Bonga

    “There is little to believe that the environmentally conscious persons of Lahore will welcome the Orange line with arms wide open. They will definitely want to save their precious little trees.” I am surprised by shallow knowledge of a student studying development economics in the London School of Economics. I would suggest you to read the latest IPCC report http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/ before making this comments. Sustainability is more than trees.Recommend

  • Tahir

    And PML N could not negotiate with them on this? They should have asked them to provide money for health and education sector…..But chinese was pursuing its own interests and PML N too started pushing their interests…..Bottomline is small leader, small mentalityRecommend

  • Ryzvonusef

    Well DUH!

    Why the hell would china provide money for school or hospital? They are INVESTING, not DONATING!

    This is a business deal, in which both China and Lahore City residents benefit. China will expect returns!

    Schools and Hospitals do not generate returns, unless you want to turn them into PRIVATE schools/hospitals… which we have plenty of.Recommend

  • Sahito

    What good would medicine and education do to poor? What good would it do to anyone? At least when it can’t be physically shown to the masses on TV or on paper for the sake of publicity. Provide medicine and build small schools for little children that no one would notice on the next election campaign. Are you kidding? That’s the dumbest idea! A politician needs landmarks that people will remember him with and admire him for. So, build infrastructure that will serve as a long term reminder for the people about the good that our party has done for the uneducated, illiterate and poor. You poor people would have walked to the hospital if we hadn’t provided you with the ‘Metro’. Vote for our party!Recommend

  • Muhammad Umar

    the only problem with PML N is that they invest money on different projects just for sake of proof to tell everyone atleast they have done something but fact is they run after medallion and lack the intent of solving core issues of punjabRecommend

  • p106433 Muhammad Ummar

    it was specifically given for this cause because this is what they want it to invest on .it was never line on the rock .Recommend

  • http://policypakistan.wordpress.com/ Usman Masood

    A clarification is in order:

    I did not use “[the] money from China could have been channeled…” in the literal sense and was definitely not suggesting the CM to cheat/renege on the Metro Train agreement.

    Instead, I was merely trying to paint a picture of how small amounts of money could be used to make bigger impacts on people’s lives and the whole economy.

    The proposal for this train was CM Punjab’s, not China’s in the first place. If he designs an as classy welfare-oriented programme, many agencies like the DFID and the UNDP would welcome that.

    Needless to say, priorities have to be our own, they don’t need to come from across the border. And to envision the usefulness of a potential project to us, a good yardstick is the 3 Es: Equity, Efficiency &/or Environment.

    If you can’t locate yourself on this triangle, you’re nowhere.Recommend

  • sterry

    Only place where there is relative peace and prosperity Punjab – Whether this is due to Shahbaz Sharif work or not is debatable but this act of violence should be blamed squarely on Tahirul Qadri who ran away to claim asylum and oath to Queen in Canada but still wants to instigate problems for democracy in Pakistan.Recommend

  • farhan saeed

    We need to invest in education and health rather than just providing infrastructure. If there is no education, how can you think of standing on your own feet rather than relying on China or any other country. Plus there are people who are starving from hunger. There are number of incidents that took place such as suicide of mother with children etc. Wasn’t metro made for the purpose of people welfare. If so, why these types of incidents took place.
    Pakistan, a country where food is expensive than a metro ticket. I think i have said enough.Recommend

  • Taimoor Khan

    LOL. People will come to see metro train? Why can’t they go to Dehli?Recommend

  • Nzaar

    The author tries to make a point on how the money could be better invested. The writer gives examples on how coal transportation, sanitation, or women’s training are better alternatives.

    Well, “it could have been done better” is an endless argument. Who says training women is the best investment? Why not put up a power plant? Or build a road to a farm? Or build a hospital in a remote village? Or expand the capacity of UET or the schools or colleges? EVERY dollar in the world could be better invested somewhere else – who decides what to invest where: The elected leaders.

    So while the author gives an “F”, he should also appreciate:

    1. there will always be someone who will say the money should have been spent elsewhere – it’s an easy argument to make and doesn’t require ANY analysis (not that any analysis is given above that indicates an investment in sewage would yield greater returns)

    2. the author has obviously not travelled in a public bus in Lahore in 47 degrees in June… had he done so, the utility of an air conditioned bus that comes on time would have increased manifold

    3. grading across the world is now based on a curve, i.e., on relative performance. The previous CM was Pervaiz Elahi… how does the grade change when looked at in relative terms?

    4. Unfortunately, democracy is driven by votes and numbers. Lahore carries the most, hence will always remain a priority to ensure better votes/numbers the next time around. If you want equitable distribution of wealth, you need a socialist fascist government.Recommend

  • Trilok Singh

    Amritsar to Lahore….35 miles,Amritsar to Delhi 350 miles.
    2.Punjab´s Capital is Lahore .
    3.On way to Nankana Sahib,the pilgrims will love to visit Lahore.
    4.It will bring money to Pakistan´s tourist Industry.
    5.Jis lahore vekheya nahin,oh jammia i nahin.Recommend

  • Rehan

    Good work done Usman. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that such kind of investments should always be gauged with / on 3Es yardstick.Recommend