China-funded projects back on track

Most Chinese nationals involved in the projects have returned to Bangladesh after pandemic shutdown

Almost all of the country's major development projects being funded by China are back on track following a prolonged hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Economic Relations Division and project officials said.

According to them, most of the Chinese nationals who had been involved in the projects have returned to Bangladesh as the government has allowed all economic activities to resume.

As a result, the construction work of almost all nine projects involving $7.1 billion and all funded by China is ongoing.

"All of the projects under Chinese assistance are moving forward at an adequate pace at the moment," said Md Shahriar Kader Siddiky, joint secretary of the ERD's Asia wing.

The projects are Padma bridge rail link; National ICT infra-network for Bangladesh government phase III; the multilane road tunnel under the Karnaphuli river; installation of single point mooring with double pipeline; modernisation of telecom network for digital connectivity; tier IV national data centre; Dasherkandi sewerage treatment plant; the expansion and strengthening of the power system network under the Dhaka Power Distribution Company area; and power grid network strengthening project under Power Grid Company of Bangladesh.

The ERD held talks with Chinese officials on August 25 as part of its desperate efforts to give an impetus to the mega projects.

"We arranged visas for the Chinese nationals who work with the Chinese-funded projects, so they did not face any problem to come back," Siddiky said.

He credited a joint effort from the ERD, the Chinese embassy, different implementing entities and Chinese contractors for resuming the construction work.

Some 235 Chinese nationals are currently working at the site of the multilane road tunnel project under the Karnaphuli river and all other necessary workforces arrived in early August, said Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, the project director.

The project has achieved a breakthrough in the construction of the left line of the tunnel despite a shortage of raw materials amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

"The work is going on in full swing," Chowdhury told The Daily Star.

The project is being developed by China Communications Construction Company. Once completed, the tunnel would connect Chattogram city to the other side of Karnaphuli river.

This is the first underwater tunnel in South Asia and also the first overseas large-diameter underwater TBM (tunnel boring machine) scheme to be undertaken by a Chinese company.

As of August, 58 per cent of the project work has been completed while the remainder would be finished within the deadline of December 2022, Chowdhury also said.

The tunnel is being built at a cost of Tk 9,880 crore to turn Chattogram into "One city, two towns". The total length will be around 9.092 kilometres, including a 3.5-kilometre stretch under the river and an approach road of 4.89km alongside 740 metres of bridges.

The development works of the Padma bridge rail link project is gaining momentum and 700 Chinese nationals have already returned, said Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, the project director.

Before the pandemic struck the country in March, the project involved around 850 Chinese nationals. Some 25.3 per cent of the project was complete by August.

The development of national ICT infra-network for Bangladesh government Phase III (Info-Sarkar) is nearing completion and both the government and the general public are benefitting from the initiative as it helped authorities remain active online, Siddiky said.

If the project was not active, all government activities would have come to a halt, he added.

Shamsur Rahman, chairman of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation, said the implementation of the single point mooring (SPM) with double pipeline project has remained stuck for the last two and a half months as not all Chinese nationals have returned since leaving in early June.

Many Chinese nationals had continued to work during the nationwide lockdown in April and May, at a time when local workers did not show up, he said.

Rahman expects to resume the construction work of the project this month as many of the workers who have been vaccinated have returned.

As of August, 52 per cent of the physical progress has been achieved, while the remaining 48 per cent will be completed by deadline June 2022, according to the BPC chairman.

In July, the government revised the cost for the SPM project for the second time, increasing it by 21 per cent.

As a result, the cost of the project overran its original budget by 33 per cent because of the delays in securing loans, the appreciation of the dollar against the taka and a threefold rise in the price of land.

The original cost was set at Tk 4,935.96 crore but following the first revision, it was raised to Tk 5,426.25 crore while the second revision took it to Tk 6,568.26 crore. The new deadline is June 30, 2022.

The SPM will have an annual unloading capacity of nine million tonnes. It will be able to unload 120,000 tonnes of crude oil in 48 hours and 70,000 tonnes of diesel in 28 hours.

In order to avoid unexpected incidents amid the Covid-19 outbreak, a separate residential complex for Chinese workers and officials with high-level of safety measures was set up at the sites of the nine projects to ensure that work can continue uninterrupted.

Of the nine projects, seven are a part of the memorandum of understanding signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Dhaka in October 2016.

The previously approved MoU comprised 27 investment projects, totalling about $20 billion in value. Till date, deals have been inked for seven amounting to $6.65 billion. Of the sum, $1.54 billion has been disbursed so far. 


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