China gives nod to $3.14b loan for Padma rail link

The Chinese State Council, the highest policymaking body of the East Asian nation, has finally given the go-ahead to the $3.14 billion loan for the Padma rail link project, in what can be viewed as a massive thrust to the project's implementation.

Of the 26 projects committed by China during its premier's visit to Dhaka in 2016, the rail link is the most pressing one, receiving the highest amount of loan.

Since 2017, the government took several initiatives to sign the agreement for the rail link project but to no avail.

Out of desperation, in January this year, the government even thought of sending a high-powered team led by MA Mannan, state minister for finance and planning, to China.

The plan was dropped after the Chinese Exim Bank in a letter on February 2 informed the Bangladesh government that they would soon start the process of signing the loan agreement, said an official of the Economic Relations Division.

The draft loan agreement is expected by the end of this month, soon after the wrapping up of Chinese New Year celebrations on February 23, according to Zahidul Haque, additional secretary of the ERD.

The final agreement will be signed after an inter-ministerial meeting on the draft agreement, law ministry's vetting and approval from the hard-term loan committee.

The ERD official hopes that the process will be completed by April and from May its disbursement would start.

In the Annual Development Programme of this fiscal year, more than Tk 7,000 crore has been earmarked for the project.

The rail link project is scheduled to be implemented by 2022, but a portion of it would be completed by December 2018 when the government plans to open the Padma bridge.

The project will be connected with the Padma Bridge and will enable a direct rail link between Dhaka and the southern parts of Bangladesh, particularly the Mongla port and Benapole land port.

Railway ministry officials said the preparatory work for the project has already started even though the signing of the loan agreement with China has been delayed.

Loan agreements for three projects worth $1.40 billion have so far been signed since the Chinese president's Dhaka visit.

Of the amount, $700 million is for the Karnaphuli tunnel, $140 million of which has already been disbursed.

The Info-Sarkar Phase III project got $156 million, $31 million of which has been disbursed.

The remaining $550 million went to the installation of the single point mooring with double pipeline; of the sum, $110 million will be disbursed in a couple of days.

In the next month, loan agreement for another project -- the $231 million Modernisation of Telecommunication Network for Digital Connectivity -- will be signed, the ERD official added.