19 Slow Moving Projects: Railway now seeks deadline extension
The Bangladesh Railway's abysmal track record in project implementation will continue for a while, it seems.
The state-run agency, which started getting sizeable allocations after decades of neglect when the Awami League-led alliance assumed power in 2009, is now soliciting an extension for about half of the projects it is implementing.
At present, the BR has 41 projects under its wings involving about Tk 142,193.2 crore.
Of the 41 projects, two were taken on board recently and 24 of them should be done and dusted -- by June.
But, as things stand, only four are on course to meeting their June closing date.
The BR, which has scrapped one of the projects expiring this month, wants to extend the timescale for 19 of them beyond June, said a top official of the state agency on condition of anonymity to speak candidly on the matter.
Usually, with the extension of the deadline comes the increase in project costs. For now, only a couple of the 19 projects would be seeking cost revision, said another BR official.
While experts pinned poor planning owing to weak feasibility studies, lack of accountability and skilled manpower, and vested interests for the slow progress, the global coronavirus pandemic, which has retarded the normal course of events everywhere, has given the railways ministry the ammunition to push for a wholesale revision of the projects.
After a programme on May 23, the correspondent asked the Railways Minister Md. Nurul Islam Sujan about the reason for the wholesale revision of the projects and he along with the Railway Secretary Salim Reza and the BR Director-General Dhirendra Nath Mazumder blamed it all on the global public health crisis.
In the last five fiscal years, the ministry could not achieve the average implementation rate for annual development programmes except in fiscal 2017-18, documents show.
In five consecutive fiscal years, including the current one, the government allocated Tk 56,964.2 crore for various development and technical assistance projects to the BR. Until October last year, the BR managed to spend only Tk 30,493.3 crore, according to its data.
The BR has already sent the proposals of the 19 projects, 15 of which have already been amended before, for another round of revision, sources said.
One of the projects is the construction of the 64.75-kilometre-long Khulna-Mongla Port rail line.
The project was supposed to be completed within three years of its approval in December 2010.
But the project's physical work did not kick off six years after the approval. In the meantime, the cost of the project -- which is being implemented with India's first line of credit -- rose to Tk 3,801 crore, 120 percent higher than the original estimate.
The delays did not end here.
The project authorities recently sought another Tk 633.4 crore and a one-and-a-half-year extension of the project's current deadline in June this year.
As of February, the project witnessed 82.5 percent progress.
Another project is the Akhaura and Laksam Double Line project.
The project, which was approved in December 2014 for June 2020 completion, entails the construction of a double rail line on this section and the conversion of the existing track into the dual gauge.
But the main construction work only commenced in November 2016, about two years after the approval. The project got a year's extension to June this year.
Now, following the request of the project authorities, the BR authorities on May 8 sent a proposal to the planning commission seeking a two-year time extension to June 2023 without cost escalation, according to another BR official.
The project witnessed 74 percent progress until April this year.
The BR in 2015 had taken two projects -- one for the east zone and another for the west zone -- for rehabilitation, construction and upgradation of important level crossings.
The project for the east zone has gone through revision twice and the west zone once. And now, the BR has sought a year's extension for both projects.
As of April, 77 percent of the east zone project has been completed and 74.4 percent of the west zone one.
The Planning Commission has fixed June 23 to discuss the time extension proposals of 11 BR projects, the BR official said.
The other seven projects that would be discussed at the meeting on June 23 are: procurement of meter gauge and broad gauge passenger carriages; procurement of locomotives, relief cranes and locomotive simulator; technical assistance for Dhaka-Chittagong-Cox's Bazar rail project preparatory facility; feasibility study for important projects of the west zone; feasibly study and details design for the construction of a rail line from Darshana to Meherpur; and feasibility study for the construction of a railway link to proposed Bay Terminal at Potenga.
Besides, BR sought time extension for other eight other projects: construction of dual gauge line parallel to the existing MG line on Dhaka-Narayanganj section; procurement of 200 MG passenger carriages; construction of Akhaura-Agartala rail link; procurement of 20 MG locomotives and 150 MG passenger carriages; rolling stock operations improvement project (rolling stock procurement); construction of rail line from Ishwardi to Rooppur Atomic Centre; construction of rail line between Chilahati and Chilahati Border; feasibility study and detail design for construction of a railway link to Sunamganj; and technical assistance for rolling stock operations improvement.