2 mega projects set to kick off

Mostly foreign-funded, the infrastructure projects to cost Tk 70,000cr; physical work begins this week
Dhaka-Sylhet 4-lane highway
Dhaka-Sylhet highway. File photo: Sheikh Nasir/Star

Physical works of two mega infrastructure projects involving around Tk 70,000 crore will get underway this week, setting off a flurry of activities for the next several years.

The expansion work of Dhaka-Sylhet highway under a Tk 16,918.59 crore project will start on February 1 and the work for the country's first-ever underground metro rail line under a Tk 52,561.43 core scheme will begin the following day.

Implementation of the projects starts at a time when the country is going through an economic slowdown owing to the energy and US dollar shortages, mainly driven by the Russia-Ukraine war.

But the project authorities said this will not put any pressure on the country's economy as the projects will be implemented mostly with foreign funds. Japan will provide a loan of Tk 39,450 crore (75 percent) for the metro rail project while Asian Development Bank will lend Tk 13,244.69 crore (78.28 percent) for the road expansion scheme.

Formally known as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-1, the metro rail project is the country's second biggest infrastructure scheme after the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant project.

SASEC Dhaka-Sylhet Corridor Development Project is the biggest scheme of the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) in terms of project cost.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue, the country's leading think-tank, said the inflow of foreign currency will increase if foreign-funded projects are implemented and the disbursement of funds is good.

"So, the government should emphasise on implementation of foreign-funded projects. However, projects implemented with domestic resources should be discouraged," he added.

"Considering the overall state of the country's economy, the authorities should determine their priorities in implementing projects," he told this correspondent on Thursday.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the civil work of MRT Line-1 on February 2. The work will start with land development for a depot at Pitalganj in Narayanganj's Rupganj upazila.

Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), the implementing agency of the project, has already hired a Japan-Bangladesh joint-venture firm for constructing the depot. Japanese firm Tokyu Construction Co Ltd and Bangladeshi's Max Infrastructure Ltd will carry out the work within 910 days for Tk 607.65 crore. Of the amount, Japan will provide Tk 525.82 crore as loan.

The 31.24km rail line will have two parts -- the 19.87km part from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Kamalapur (Airport route) will be built underground and the 11.36km part will be an elevated line from Notunbazar to Purbachal (Purbachal route).

The airport route will have 12 stations and the Purbachal route nine, seven of which will be constructed above the ground. Two stations along the Purbachal route -- Nadda and Notunbazar -- will be set up underground, to be used as an interchange for passengers to switch between routes.

Once completed, the metro rail will be able to carry 8 lakh passengers every day. The deadline of the project is December 2026.

MAN Siddique, managing director of DMTCL, said unlike many other projects, they take "slice loans", meaning they take a portion of the total loan which is required only for a particular year.

"So, taking such an amount of loan in this fiscal year will not put any pressure on the economy."

Besides, most of the elements needed for the depot development work is available in the country, except some equipment which will be brought from abroad on the condition that those will be resent after the completion of the work, he added.

Siddique said the bills of the Japanese contractor will be paid in Japanese yen and those of the Bangladeshi contractor in taka. "So, there is no need of US dollar here."

Expanding the 210km Dhaka-Sylhet highway into a four-lane one with service lanes on both sides will start from the Narayanganj end.

The RHD has already hired joint-venture firm of Longjian Road and Bridge Company Ltd of China and Max Infrastructure Ltd of Bangladesh for expansion of 18km portion of the road, stretching from the Kanchpur intersection in Narayanganj to Chanpara Bus Stop in the same district. The firm will get Tk 925.36 crore to complete the physical work within four years.

Another joint venture of Zhengzhou City Highway Engineering Corporation Ltd of China and Max Infrastructure Ltd will carry out the work on expansion of a 17km portion of the highway, stretching from Chanpara to Narsingdi BSCIC area, at a cost of Tk 1,394.66 crore.

Project Director AKM Fazlul Karim said the government is encouraging implementation of foreign-funded projects and the ADB will provide the money for all the work of the project except VAT and income tax.

"So, our project will not put any pressure on domestic resources," he told The Daily Star on Thursday.

Mentionable, land acquisition and relocation of utility services for the expansion of the highway are being done under a separate project.

Fazlul said the contractors will receive their payments from ADB in US dollar and thus they will be able to clear the LC payments using that currency. This means there will no pressure on the country's forex reserves due to the implementation of the project, he added.