RHD must not delay crucial projects
We are disappointed about the developments surrounding the planned Bhanga-Jashore-Benapole road expansion project to be implemented by the Roads and Highways Department (RHD). The project promises to enhance connectivity in the region through the Padma bridge and Madhumati bridge. However, as reported by this daily, even before its estimated cost has been approved, it was revised to show a 25 percent increase – or roughly Tk 2,800 crore. For context, this amount alone exceeds the annual budget for RHD's road maintenance works in FY 2021-22. This is but an example of how poor planning and funding issues increase costs of public projects.
The current road from Bhanga to Benapole via Jashore is a two-lane highway – which the project is supposed to convert into four lanes – connecting a ferry terminal at the Kalna point of Madhumati River in Narail. Most of the vehicles bound for Benapole, Jashore, and Jhenaidah take this narrow road, which cannot properly accommodate the extra traffic load, creating huge bottlenecks. Despite its potential to ease traffic, the expansion project is still stuck at the planning level. Reportedly, the cost of the project has risen primarily because of lack of funding from India. It has been in talks since 2017. If funding uncertainties continue, the cost may rise even further, for which the public will have to pay, again. This is totally unacceptable.
Unfortunately, many government projects are suffering from similar problems and irregularities. At the RHD alone, only three of its projects are on track to be finished this year, while 41 are set to miss their 2022 deadline, as per a report. Most of these projects have seen cost escalations, indicating a pattern of wilful negligence and corruption. Taking up projects without a proper feasibility study and cost estimation, slow tender process, and dividing project works into "small packages" to benefit influential contractors are among the key reasons for project delays. These are issues that can be averted, and huge amounts of public money saved, if project officials maintain their honesty and professionalism. Instead, these projects have become synonymous with corruption, inefficiency and irregularities.
We, therefore, urge the higher authorities to take urgent steps to address this state of affairs, including often-inflated project costs, which is much needed at this time of great economic turmoil in the country. As regards the RHD projects, it is of paramount importance that the department grows capacity to plan and implement better, and it must do so with its existing projects as well. The RHD plays a key role in ensuring connectivity in the country. If it does its work properly, people can reach not only their destinations but also their potential as economic actors. For that reason, pending and planned projects, like the Bhanga-Jashore-Benapole road expansion work, must be executed without further delay.