The cost of digging a new canal in Chittagong city has quadrupled in three years due to delay in getting the funds in full for the project deemed critical for alleviating the city's waterlogging problem.
The estimated project implementation cost has soared to Tk 1,300 crore from Tk 326 crore in 2014 largely due to rising land prices and structures that have been built.
The land acquisition cost alone rose to Tk 1,103 crore from Tk 245 crore as people built structures on their land to drive up prices and to get compensation for their buildings that would have to be knocked down.
Chittagong City Corporation took up this project in 2012 to ease the persistent waterlogging in the port city. The idea was that the canal would start from Baroipara and go along Shah Amanat Road, crisscross Nur Housing Society, Maijpara, Purbo Bakolia, and finally merge with the Karnaphuli in Bolirhat.
The Executive Committee of National Economic Council approved the project in 2014 and its implementation was to start immediately and be completed by June last year.
The 2.9km canal on 25 acres was supposed to be 65 feet wide with an average depth of 15 feet, with all supporting infrastructure, including a paved walkway.
The Chittagong Development Authority, under the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, prepared a Drainage Master Plan in 1995, in association with the World Bank.
It recommended digging three canals inside the city -- the most extensive being the one from Baroipara to Karnaphuli -- to reduce the distress of 10 lakh residents in four wards, including Purbo Sholosahar, Purbo Bakolia, Poschim Bakolia, and Chandgao.
In 2012, the Land Acquisition department of the district administration estimated land cost at Tk 245 crore. Accordingly, the CCC prepared a detailed project plan. Three years later, the CCC received only Tk 63 crore, that too in instalments.
Although CCC requested the district administration to start land acquisition, the latter did not oblige sensing that the flow of work would be hampered if the money was not sanctioned in full.
The Tk 63 crore is now lying idle in a bank.
In a recent development, the CCC asked the district administration to provide a revised land value assessment. The latter wrote back in January, quoting Tk 1,103 crore, with a provision to raise the value 10-15 percent every year henceforth.
The Land Acquisition department reasoned increased land value and compensation for structures on land for the rise in cost. The department acquires land at three times the value which it is legally bound to do, said Mominur Rashid, additional deputy commissioner (land acquisition) of Chittagong.
Rafiqul Islam, project director of Baroipara canal excavation project and additional chief engineer of the CCC, told The Daily Star that they sent the revised detailed project plan to the Planning Commission for approval with a revised cost of Tk 1,300 crore.
Interestingly, locals claimed that the newly evaluated land price was wrong. They said an acre there was selling for Tk 25-30 lakh and 25 acres would cost around Tk 700 crore. And if the government acquired the land at three times the value, the land should cost it around Tk 2,100 crore.
They said land prices in the area were comparatively low as the area suffers from waterlogging but many, hearing about the canal project, developed their land and built structures.
According to CCC officials, if the revised project is again approved by the Ecnec, it will be completed by 2020.
But the people in the area would have to endure the monsoon deluge until then.
CCC Mayor AJM Nasir, referring to the Drainage Master Plan's recommendation for three canals, told The Daily Star, “Water Development Board is also undertaking another project to ease the same problem. We would move forward with the project considering the need. The canal has to be excavated. If we get the money, we will proceed with the project.”