The cost of land acquisition for the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project is set to go up by Tk 780 crore, which is likely to escalate the project costs.
Of the amount, the government will spend around Tk 130 crore for acquiring around 100 more acres of private land for “some changes in route alignment” and pay Tk 650 crore to several government bodies, including the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA), for using their land.
Project officials, however, said they would manage the additional money for land acquisition from the project’s existing funds and thus no additional funds would be required “at least for now”.
The fresh escalation in costs came around one and a half years after the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the revised Development Project Proforma (DPP). At that time, the costs rose by more than Tk 4,200 crore as land acquisition expenditures escalated and project implementation got delayed.
The project costs climbed to Tk 39,246 crore from the original costs of Tk 34,989 crore.
The Ecnec also extended two years for completing the project, setting the new deadline to June 2024.
Besides, the government has to spend more than Tk 100 crore from its own funds to provide project employees with facilities as Exim Bank of China, the lone lender of the project, has declined to fund this.
Project Director Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, however, said, “Additional money would not be required [for the project] for at least two or three years.”
There were some initial problems in the project, but those were overcome. The work has gained momentum, with 22 percent physical progress till December last year, he told The Daily Star on Sunday.
Another official said the project costs will not increase for acquiring more land as the money would come from the existing allocation, but the costs might rise for some other reasons like extending stations size.
“The money could have been used for other purposes if we had not needed to buy the new land,” the official said, wishing anonymity.
THE RAIL LINK PROJECT
The Ecnec in May 2016 approved the “Padma Bridge Rail Link Project” to connect the capital with Jashore with a 169km double-track rail line over the under-construction Padma Bridge.
But the loan agreement with China was delayed.
In April 2018, the Economic Relations Division inked a Tk 21,036 crore loan agreement with Exim Bank of China, and physical work of the project finally started in October 2018.
Now, it takes more than nine hours to travel the 412km from Dhaka to Khulna, but once the project is completed, the distance would be reduced to 213km and it would take four hours.
At least 23km of the rail line would be elevated. The total rail route would have 66 major and 244 minor bridges, a highway overpass and 40 underpasses, 29 level crossings, and 20 stations.
Apart from the new acquisition plan, the authorities have to acquire 1,786 acres of private land and around 340 acres of different government agencies, including the RHD and the BBA. They have so far acquired around 1,700 acres, a project official said.
WHY ADDITIONAL LAND?
Project Director Fakhruddin said they have to acquire around 100 acres of land for the first phase from Dhaka to Faridpur’s Bhanga.
“We may not require to buy more land for other phases,” he said.
A Bangladesh Railway official, wishing anonymity, said they acquired per acre of land for the project cost at an average of Tk 1.28 crore and that the costs of 100 acres would be around Tk 130 crore.
They would acquire land from Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Madaripur, and Faridpur for the first phase.
The official added that they would have to acquire more land due to changes in the route alignment.
Asked about the prime minister’s directives to set up the rail track with the option of the electric traction system so that electric trains could be used in future, the project director said they were now conducting a study on the proposal.
Usually, a government agency would acquire other government agency’s land giving token money or without any cost.
In this case, the project authorities have to acquire land of different government agencies at full price.
“So, now we have to pay Tk 650 crore for government agencies’ land acquisition,” Fakhruddin said.
From now on, a government agency will have to pay the same amount to acquire land from another government agency or a private owner, said another railway official.
Exim Bank would provide Tk 21,036 crore as loan for the project, while the government will provide Tk 18,210 crore.
The government plans to open the 42km stretch of the rail line from Mawa to Bhanga over the Padma bridge by June 2021 when the long-cherished bridge is expected to be opened for vehicles.
The physical work of the rail route suffered a setback due to problems in the design of piles of viaducts on both sides of the bridge and a huge amount of allocated money for the project was refunded in the last fiscal year.
“Like many other mega projects, we faced hurdles at initial stages, but we have been able to overcome those and make a significant progress,” he said.