214-KM Dhaka-Sylhet Highway: ADB to fund its expansion into four lanes
12:00 AM, July 25, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:59 AM, July 25, 2019

214km Dhaka-Sylhet Highway: ADB to fund its expansion into four lanes

The impasse over financing of the expansion of 214-kilometre Dhaka-Sylhet Highway into four lanes is likely to end soon, as Asian Develop-ment Bank has given “consent” to fund the project, officials said.

After a programme on Sunday, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader told reporters that “ADB will finance the project.”

In that case, a new feasibility study and detail design has to be prepared and project cost will increase, Roads and Highways Department (RHD) officials said.

At first the authority wanted to implement the project with Chinese loan. But the government later decided to do the work using their own re-sources, following failed negotiations with a Chinese company.

But the Road Transport and Highway Division (RTHD) later changed de-cision and asked the Economic Relations Division (ERD) to find a foreign financier.

Recently, ADB gave their “consent” to finance the project, a top official of the ERD told The Daily Star yesterday.

An official of the RHD, which is the implementing authority of the project, said the government will now send a formal request to ADB through the ERD.

The organisation will then send its appraisal mission in Bangladesh and on the basis of the mission’s report, ADB will take the final decision in this regard, the official said, requesting anonymity.

“These are all formalities…But ADB is very positive about financing the project,” the official said. He however could not say how much time it would take to complete all procedure.

RHD sources said the previous feasibility study and detail design was prepared on the basis of the data collected between 2013 and 2014, and so a new one has to be done.

The project cost will increase, as the scope and volume of services will increase and more land has to be acquired, they said.

IMPASSE OVER FINANCING

The Dhaka-Sylhet four-lane highway project is one of the 26 projects for which China had committed to provide a $21.5 billion soft loan. A memo-randum of understanding (MoU) between Dhaka and Beijing was signed during the Chinese president’s Dhaka visit in 2016.

As per the earlier plan, China selected China Harbor Engineering Com-pany Limited for the project and asked Bangladesh to sign a commercial contract with the company.

On October 9 of the same year, the government signed a primary deal with China Harbor, after which the negotiation process for a commercial contract started.

The company sought Tk 17,000 crore in construction cost of the high-way. The amount was exclusive of other costs, including land acquisi-tion.

The Chinese firm then allegedly offered a hefty bribe of $70,000 to the then newly appointed secretary of the RTHD to green-light the work at the inflated cost, sources said.

But the secretary did not take the bribe and instead returned it through the Chinese embassy in Dhaka. 

The then finance minister AMA Muhith, at a programme in January last year, said the company had been blacklisted as it had bribed a govern-ment official.

However, RTHD officials claimed the government had to fund the project from its own resources as the negotiations with the company had fallen through. They also said the company was not blacked listed. 

In May last year, the RTHD sent a proposal to the planning ministry to implement the project using their own resources.

The cost of the project, which includes elevating the highway into four lanes from Kanchpur in Dhaka to Sylhet with service lanes on both sides, has been estimated at Tk 11,412 crore.

As per that plan, the project was supposed to be completed between April 2018 and December 2022. The 214 kilometres will have 321 cul-verts, 70 bridges, five railway overpasses, four flyovers, 10 underpass-es, 42 footbridges, three truck stands and two rest houses, officials said.

The aim of the project was to expand the regional transport network, in-cluding the Asian Highway Network, Bistec and Saarc corridors, to bring better mobility in the trade industry.

But, the RTHD later changed decision and asked ERD to find a foreigner financier for the project.

This time, the estimated cost was Tk 14140.87 crore and January 2019 to December 2023 has been considered as the implementation period, sources said.

However, the cost and duration for project implementation could be bet-ter known after the fresh feasibility study and detail design, RHD officials said.

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