ISLAMABAD - The government is going to develop 45 new cities across the country to effectively tackle the influx of rural population to urban centres and upgrade the living standard of people in the under-developed areas. The initial survey for ‘Smart Cities Project’ has already been completed.

Sources in the government confirmed to The Nation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is so keen to materialise the project that he is himself monitoring the progress and taking reports from Planning, Development and Reforms Minister Ch Ahsan Iqbal on regular basis.

On the direction of PM’s direction the ministry had engaged a firm of international repute for the conduct of initial feasibility and survey of the project across the country and proposed sites for some 17 smart cities in Balochistan, 12 in the Punjab and eight each in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

When contacted the officials in Planning Division informed that while conducting the survey it was kept in mind that the new cities should be located in the remote and under-developed areas of all the four provinces.

The aim is to bring the people of these areas at par with the developed cities of the country and also check the growing migration of the people from these areas to the developed parts, where the civic infrastructure was already unable to take the burden of the growing population.

They that the idea behind developing these cities is to provide quality living standard to the people of these remote areas in their own vicinity where they would have quality health, education and other civic facilities.

Share of Urban Population in Pakistan has increased from 32 % of the population in 1998 to 40% today; if current trends of rural to urban migration continue, this share will exceed 50 % in 2025. Currently, nine cities have populations exceeding 1 million each, and 75 with populations between 100,000 and 1 million. Pakistan’s existing cities contribute 78% to the country’s GDP and 1% increase in urbanisation leads to a 1.1% increase in the economic growth rate.

But population influx is badly straining the existing urban centres. The inability of the cities to absorb, comfortably accommodate, and meaningfully employ rural-to-urban migrants exacerbates social and ethnic tensions between ‘native’ and ‘migrant’ segments, besides creating a host of other problems.

With the development of new cities the burden of people’s influx to the major centres of the country for jobs, education, health cover and better living standard would reduce. The law and order situation would be effectively managed in these new cities as the government would make sure that the population of these new urban centres do not exceed one million.

Sources in the government said that all these smart cities would be linked to the motorways and main roads and it would be make sure that the distance of these cities from main motorways and main highways would not be more than one hour drive.

As these new cities would be planned one it would be ensured that the markets, parks, hospitals educational institutes should have ample capacity to cater to their requirements, the sources added.

Officials in the Planning Division informed that initially one model smart city would be established in each province for which they have already sought suggestions and proposals from the provincial governments and would initiate on ground work by next year provided the readiness of the provincial governments.

These officials said that they would preferably establish the new cities in the calamity hit areas so that the people of these devastated areas could be brought at par with the developed areas of the country.

It was further informed that a number of national and international firms in the field have shown great interest in the project and the government is considering making it public-private joint venture by engaging some local or international construction companies.