Transport master plan violated at will
Ignoring the Revised Strategic Transport Plan, government agencies on their own initiated eight major projects in and around the capital. The projects could end up on the chopping block and the money already spent could be written off.
For example, Bangladesh Bridge Authority has completed a feasibility study and made a preliminary design for a 258km subway network in the capital and adjacent areas when another government agency is already implementing a plan for six metro rail lines about 140km long.
The first of the lines is already in partial operation.
But the BBA has already spent Tk 321 crore on the preparatory work for the subway project. This is just one of the eight major projects not in the RSTP.
The lack of coordination is mind-boggling. Five projects have been initiated along a single alignment (Inner Circular Road). While one agency wants to build a circular rail line, another wants to build a circular elevated expressway and the others want to build surface roads.
This is going on when the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), the government agency responsible for coordinating transport-related projects in Dhaka and five surrounding districts, is reviewing and updating the RSTP.
This means the future of the eight projects hangs in the balance.
If the RSTP finds one of the projects not viable, then the public money already spent would simply go to waste.
Sources said influential civil servants posted at government agencies often take up such projects without bothering to get approval from the DTCA, complicating the already difficult transport planning for Dhaka city. There are examples of these influentials bypassing the DTCA altogether.
As per the law, government agencies are supposed to follow the RSTP and take approval from the DTCA for implementing transport-related projects in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narsingdi, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, and Manikganj.
In 2016, the government approved the RSTP for 2016 to 2035 for building or widening 1,198km of roads. The roads include 126km of expressways, 310km of circular roads (inner, middle and outer), and 761km of primary and secondary roads.
Even though seven years of the RSTP have passed, only 4km of roads have been built.
THE EIGHT PROJECTS
The DTCA, during its public consultation meeting for the RSTP updating yesterday, mentioned that the eight projects were initiated going beyond RSTP's recommendations.
The projects are: The 258km subway network by the BBA, Elevated Inner Circular Road by BBA, Dhaka Circular Railway by Bangladesh Railway (BR), Rayerbazar Beribadh to Postagola road by Dhaka South City Corporation, Flood Control and Drainage Development at Dhaka Circular Road (part-2) by Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), Santinagar-Jhilmil Flyover by Rajuk, Dhaka East-West Elevated Expressway, and Jahangir Gate Tunnel by BBA.
Abul Quasem Siddique, deputy team leader of consultants appointed by the DTCA, told the meeting that the Elevated Inner Circular Road, Dhaka Circular Railway, Rayerbazar to Postagola road, and Flood Control and Drainage Development were initiated along the same Inner Circular Road.
Moreover, the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) in June 2018 completed a feasibility and detailed design for developing the Inner Circular Road, sources at RHD said.
They, however, said BWDB is building the dam to facilitate their Inner Circular Road development work.
Quasem said BBA and DSCC are currently carrying out studies while the BR and BWDB have already completed their studies.
How muchBWDB spent could not be known but the BR has spent Tk 29.72 crore.
When this correspondent asked if the DTCA was updating the RSTP only to validate these projects. And if not, who would be held responsible for wasting public money, Mohammad Rabiul Alam, director of the RSTP updating project, did not give a direct answer.
Rabiul, also the additional executive director of the DTCA, said the RSTP recommends developing the Inner Circular Road as an urban expressway and it could be elevated, on the surface, or a combination of both.
Taking advantage of this obscurity, different agencies are now initiating projects, he said.
"We don't know why so many studies were carried out. But we will fix it through the study [RSTP updating] … ," he said, adding, "Different agencies have taken up projects from different perceptions, but we will fix which one will be suitable."
On who would be held responsible for wasting money, he said, "It is not possible for us to give this answer."
AKM Hafizur Rahman, another additional executive director of the DTCA, said the agencies should have consulted with them before taking up any projects, ignoring the RSTP.
Prominent transport expert Prof Moazzem Hossain told The Daily Star last night, "I don't think the DTCA has the capacity to monitor the work of different agencies and give them feedback. That's why different agencies are undertaking projects on their own, some of them going beyond the RSTP."
He said there is a lack of commitment from the authorities to alleviate the huge problem of transportation in Dhaka city. Lack of coordination, transparency, accountability and going ahead with projects all on one's own are just the symptoms of the lack of commitment.