A transport leader has allegedly stalled the Tk 65 crore expansion work of the regional highway between Rajshahi and Naogaon, causing sufferings to hundreds of commuters.
Despite having little to no experience in road construction, Subcontractor Manjur Rahman Peter, general secretary of Rajshahi Road Transport Owners' Group, managed authorisation for the work on the 21.5km stretch of the highway that falls under Rajshahi district.
But he left the work incomplete for over six months after the foundation work on the road. With monsoon approaching, he has taken no visible preparations for applying bitumen layer on the road as of yet. The time for completing the work will expire on April 24.
This is apparently the first time Manjur is working as a subcontractor.
The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) recommended punitive actions against him as per conditions of the work order and expressed worries that the foundation might get damaged in the upcoming monsoon, leading to closure of the highway.
They said Manjur ignored the department's notices several times, and he is now “pressuring” the officials for time extension, using his political influence.
Talking to The Daily Star, Manjur, a former industries and commerce affairs secretary of Rajshahi city unit's Awami League, said the work got delayed as he could not import an "asphalt plant" from India in time.
He said he would complete the work within the timeframe as he has already set up the plant. “I only need a few days to complete the work.”
Contacted, Md Shamsuzzoha, executive engineer of Rajshahi RHD, said, “He [Manjur] has been pledging to complete the work within a month for the last six months.”
In the middle of 2017, RHD floated tenders for the highway's widening and renovation works, dividing it into 12 packages.
One “Wahed Constructions Limited” was awarded two packages for the 21.5km part of the highway under Rajshahi district on January 25 this year. The bidder “employed” Manjur as its representative.
This correspondent could not get in touch with any officials of Wahed Constructions.
“Even we were unable to contact them [Wahed Constructions]. They are not answering our calls or letters,” said the RHD executive engineer.
Meanwhile, construction work of the 26km highway under Naogaon and 8km under Rajshahi -- that were distributed among other contractors -- are nearing completion.
Manjur alleged that RHD did not pay him Tk 12 crore for the 45 percent work he had already finished, which is “also hampering the work”.
Asked, executive engineer Shamsuzzoha said, “Why would we pay him when he did not take any preparation to finish the work?”
During a recent visit to the Nawhata point of the highway, this correspondent saw traffic was moving at a snail's pace.
“In this part of the highway, we slow down to avoid accidents,” said trucker Ekramul Haque. “Usually, we drive at 40km per hour on highways; here we do not even go over 20km. The road is in bad shape, it causes damage to vehicles' suspension system.”
“It gets difficult to pull a rickshaw-van amid sand,” said rickshaw-van puller Tabibur Rahman. He claimed that he did not witness any work in this section for the last six months. “At times, the contractor sprayed water on the road to reduce dust.”
Mosad Ali, a motorcyclist, said, “The road stays muddy often and becomes quite risky to ride on.”
Contacted, Habibur Rahman, additional chief engineer of RHD (Rajshahi zone), said they would take punitive actions, including forfeiting of the deposit money and blacklisting the contractors, if the work is not completed by April 24.