Padma bridge cost not too high: panel chief

Obaidul Quader, minister for road transport and bridges, and Jamilur Reza Choudhury, chairman of the government's panel of experts on Padma bridge, attend a roundtable on the project, at The Daily Star Centre yesterday. Photo: Star

The approved cost for the Padma bridge project is not too high if issues such as -- expenditure in similar projects around the world, appreciation of the dollar and escalation of prices with time -- are taken into account, an analyst said.

Jamilur Reza Choudhury, chairman of the government's panel of experts on Padma bridge, said it would cost $5,000 per square metre for the 6.15-kilometre bridge. It was $2,500 per square metre for the Bangabandhu Multipurpose Bridge over Jamuna river.

The cost has doubled in the last 18 years, which is not unusual, he said. 

He said the project's cost is not too high compared to that of other bridges around the world. Plus, there was no need to train such a long river in case of other bridges.

For instance, the longest bridge in the world, which stretches 38 km, was built over shallow waters in China.

“But we have to dig 120m deep, which equals a 40-storey building. Nowhere in the world has a bridge been built going that deep.”

Choudhury's comments came at a roundtable styled "Padma bridge -- new lifeline of development” organised by The Daily Star in association with BSRM, the largest steelmaker.

The cost has increased gradually, mostly because of expansion in the scope of work and escalation in prices, he said.

The project, when approved in 2007, was supposed to cost Tk 10,162 crore, but in 2011 it was revised upwards to Tk 20,507 crore.

Last week, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, raised the cost for the project again, to Tk 28,793.38 crore. Another reason for the hike in the cost is the stronger dollar.

In the first revision of the project in 2011, the exchange rate was Tk 69 per dollar. But in the second revision it was Tk 74.45 to Tk 78.40. In the past, the government used to pay taxes on behalf of the bidders in case of donor-funded projects.

Since the government is building the bridge with its own funds, the bidders will have to pay the value-added and other taxes themselves, Choudhury said.

Inclusion of VAT and taxes in the project costs has made the expenditure look higher, he said. But on the bright side, the government gets to keep the amount that the bidders will pay as VAT and taxes.

The overall cost has gone up sharply because the country will have to spend a lot for river training, he said.  River training will cost Tk 9,400 crore, which was Tk 4,388 crore initially, as an additional 1.3 kilometres will have to be covered at the Mawa end.

The costs for different approach roads, resettlement and land acquisition have also gone up. An additional Tk 408 crore will be needed for road widening, shifting of jetties and laying out approach roads.

For land acquisition, the affected families were given a price for their land at a rate that was fixed through an independent survey plus 50 percent premium, instead of the government rate.

Some 70,000 people have been rehabilitated, according to Choudhury, also the vice-chancellor of the University of Asia Pacific. Besides, technical training is being given to the affected families.

Rehabilitation centres have been set up where they have been given all types of support, said Shagufta Yasmeen Emily, a lawmaker from Munshiganj.

Nahim Razzaq, Emily and BM Muzammel Haque, the three lawmakers from the constituencies flanking the bridge, mentioned how the bridge will be of socio-economic benefit to the area.

Razzaq, a ruling party lawmaker from Shariatpur-3, said the bridge has been a dream project for the people of the region, and its implementation will improve the socio-economic situation to a large extent.

Emily said people face hazards while crossing the river by ferries from both banks. There were many instances when pregnant women gave birth on ferries as it takes a lot of time to cross the river, she said.

Haque, from Shariatpur-1 constituency, said the bridge will usher in a new wave of development in the region.

He said the prices of land have already gone up in the area: one bigha land cost about Tk 60,000 to Tk 1 lakh eight years ago, but now it is Tk 15 lakh to Tk 25 lakh.

Choudhury said the returns to investors of the Padma bridge is very high, so the sooner the project is completed the better it is for the economy.

The return on investment will be 21 percent in case of Padma bridge against 12 percent in case of Bangabandhu bridge, he said. 

The Padma bridge will not only be the hub of connectivity, it will also propel the shift of economic activities to the south. Mawa would be a well-planned city in future, he said.

The government has tried to involve a large number of Bangladeshi engineers in the project, according to Choudhury.

Of the five contracts for approach roads and sites, three went to Bangladeshi companies, who have won the work through international bidding and employ largely Bangladeshis.

It is now up to the Chinese company, Sinohydro Corporation, how many Bangladeshis they will recruit for constructing the main bridge. The company's construction and supervision consultants, however, include many Bangladeshis, five of whom are in key positions.

“Technology transfer is happening. Management capability is developing,” Choudhury said.

Bangladeshi engineers are taking decisions on behalf of the government, which were previously taken by foreigners, he said.

The government's international panel of seven experts for the bridge also includes a Bangladeshi.

“I would say that our participation has deepened significantly in the Padma bridge project in comparison to the Bangabandhu bridge,” he added.

Khan Mahmud Amanat, a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said since the bridge is being constructed with local funds, the people of the country have the right to know about the nitty-gritty of the bridge.

He said local experts should be involved in large number at the field level of construction, but it is not happening.

In his presentation, AFM Saiful Amin, a professor of the department of civil engineering at Buet, said the maintenance of the bridge has to conform to international standards: it has to last more than 100 years.

Sinohydro Corporation has landed the work for two of the five major components of the project, while China Major Bridge Engineering Construction Company has been awarded the contract for constructing the main bridge.

The bridge will connect vast areas of the country with the capital and transform the lives of nearly 30 million people living in the southwestern region.

By reducing distances between major urban centres and Dhaka by almost 100km, the bridge will help expedite regional trade activities and alleviate poverty while speeding up growth and development as a whole.

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, and Md Ataur Rahman, a professor at the department of water resources engineering at Buet, also spoke.


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