Difficulties in laying down transmission pipes under the Padma river bed are holding up gas supply to the southwest, which, in the absence of low-cost energy, continues to lag economically.
So far, the government laid out 247 kilometres of the 249km-long transmission line.
The remaining two kilometres involve traversing the river bed at the Pakshi-Bheramara point and that is where the Tk 1,630 crore-project taken up in 2009 to supply gas to the Khulna division has hit a dead-end.
Overcoming rocks, which were used in the river bed for the construction of the Hardinge Bridge during the British colonial period, is the main challenge, said Md Ishaque Uddin, general manager of Gas Transmission Company that is implementing the project.
The first attempt to lay the pipeline was made in 2011. The same contractor tried again in 2013 only to get the same result, he said.
The authority also tried to lay the transmission line through the Lalan Shah Bridge, but that attempt too went in vain as the bridge design does not have that capacity, said Ishaque Uddin, also the project director for laying gas transmission pipeline from Hatikumrul in Sirajganj to Bheramara in Kushtia.
“And it is not possible to take the line through the century-old Hardinge Bridge.”
The Asian Development Bank is the major financer and GTCL has already sought consent from the multilateral lender to re-tender the laying of the river crossing line. He expects an opinion from the ADB soon.
In the absence of gas supply in the Khulna region, industrial activities suffered, as factories have to make do with electricity as an energy source, which costs three to four times more than gas.
“Gas supply will accelerate activities here,” said SM Rezaul Islam, project director of the southwest region gas distribution network project.
Also the general manager of Sundarbans Gas Company, a state-owned company, Islam said the power plants will get the gas supply first as and when the transmission pipelines are up and running followed by small and medium industries.
Kazi Aminul Haque, president of Khulna Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said industrialisation in the region remains at a low level only for the absence of gas supply.
“Land is available here. We have a port here and road and rail connectivity is fine with the other parts of the country, particularly the north. However, the pace of industrialisation has remained stuck in the absence of a low-cost energy supply.”
The factories have to run on costly electricity or diesel, due to which they cannot compete with those operating in the Dhaka and Chittagong regions -- with gas.
Many industries will be set up in the region if there is gas supply, Haque added.
SM Amzad Hossain, chairman of Khulna-based Lockpur Group, a leading shrimp and seafood exporter, said the regional economy will get a boost after the construction of Padma bridge. “And gas supply will add vigour to that,” he said, adding that the pressure of gas, which would come through various districts, might not be enough to run industries in the Khulna region.
He suggested the government take steps to supply gas from Bhola to encourage industrialisation in the southwest.
“The prime minister's interference is needed to give the region a new lease of life,” Hossain added.