Bangladesh's 'Mega Projects' move full-speed ahead despite COVID-19 setback


Published on December 28, 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented crisis that has upended the world in 2020, has slowed Bangladesh's journey on the ‘highway of development’, but not thrown the country off track.
The construction of major infrastructures under government’s mega projects, such as the Padma Bridge, Dhaka Metro Rail and Karnaphuli tunnel, lost speed due to lockdown restrictions imposed to the prevent further spread of the virus. Many of the foreign workers and engineers also went back to their home.
But by the end of the year, most of the mega projects are progressing at full throttle. The main structure of the Padma Bridge, a dream project for tens of millions of Bangladeshis, became fully visible in December.
The government imposed the countrywide lockdown after Bangladesh reported its first coronavirus cases in March, stalling the work in the mega projects. Meeting the deadlines to complete the projects became uncertain.
Once the lockdown was lifted, work on the projects resumed in full swing from October.
Span No. 2F, the final of the 41 spans of the Padma Bridge, was installed on piers 12 and 13 at 12:02 pm on Thursday, making the main structure fully visible.
The dream of the people of 21 southern districts to get connected to Dhaka directly by road nears completion as the installation of the final span on Dec 10 made the entire basic structure of the 6.15-kilometre Padma Bridge visible.
The bridge will be open to traffic once the concrete is cast, the roads are laid out and the slabs for the railway tracks are installed. It will be operational within a year, the government expects.
Around 4,500 workers were engaged in the project at the beginning of the year. The construction work continued on a limited scale when the number of workers dropped to 1,500 after the Chinese workers left at the beginning of March. The project work resumed in full swing towards the end of the year.
The main construction work progressed 91 percent by December and the entire project is expected to be completed by next year, said Project Director Shafiqul Islam.
“We couldn’t however fully regain the speed after the project work got delayed. We need more time now,” he said.
China Major Bridge Engineering Company is building the main structure at a cost of Tk 121 billion. Sino Hydro Corporation is being paid about Tk 87 billion for river training.
The government initially aimed to complete the Tk 101.62 billion project in 2015. But the launch was delayed as much as to 2014, with the budget elevated to Tk 301.93 billion.
After the installation of the final span, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said it will be possible to open the bridge to traffic by June 2022.
The government is implementing a project to install 173-kilometre broad gauge rail tracks from Dhaka to Jashore, which will be connected to the Padma Bridge with a budget of Tk 392.58 billion.
Like the Padma Bridge, the railway project is yet to catch up the earlier work speed, said its Director Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury.
It made a 31 percent progress as of December 2020. More than 60 percent work of the Mawa-Bhanga rail link has been completed. The authorities expect to complete the entire project by June next year.
The estimated budget for the rail link was Tk 349.98 billion in 2016 but the cost was raised by Tk 42.69 billion in 2018. The deadline too was extended from December 2022 to June 2024.
The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project, the most expensive power plant in the country’s history, had progressed 26 percent before the lockdown in March. The work gained progress of 4 more percentage points by the end of the year.
The Tk 1.13 trillion projects wasn’t affected much by the pandemic as “we followed the health protocols and continued our work", said Project Director Md Shawkat Akbar Akbar.
The first reactor and pressure vessel of the first unit of the plant have also arrived in Bangladesh amid the pandemic, increasing the work speed by four times, Shawkat said. “We can meet the deadline,” he added.
Atomstroyexport JSC, an engineering company of Russia’s Rosatom, is scheduled to construct the main structure of the power plant in 68 months from the start of the project.
According to a government plan, the 1,200-megawatt first unit of the project will be able to supply power to the national grid by mid-2023. The second unit will be open in the following year. The plant with two units is being constructed on 1,062 acres of land.
The government initiated the Dohazari-Ramu-Cox’s Bazar-Ghumdhum rail link project in 2011 but it got delayed over fund crunch and trouble over land acquisition.
Finally, it signed a loan contract of Tk 180.34 billion with the Asian Development Bank.
Though the project has a deadline of December 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered to complete the part from Dohazari to Cox’s Bazar earlier, as she plans to inaugurate the project in the year of the golden jubilee of the country’s independence. But the project almost stalled at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when the Chinese workers got stranded at home. The project made 45 percent progress as of November this year, said Project Director Md Mofizur Rahman.
“But we are prepared to complete it by 2022,” he said adding that it will not require a cost hike even after the delay.
The authorities have fast-tracked the Dhaka Metro Rail project work by ensuring the health protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, aiming to launch the rapid transit system in 2021, the year Bangladesh celebrates its golden jubilee.
“We have planned to work for 24 hours a day to meet the deadline next year. Especially, we plan to do most of the work during the night. Work will be done in the daytime too," said MAN Siddique, the managing director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited or DMTCL.
The 11.29 km part of metro rail, called MRT-6 connecting Uttara and Agargaon, was targeted to be completed in 2021, while the other 10 km part from Agargaon to Motijheel was scheduled to be completed in 2023.
The average progress of the overall project has reached 53.58 percent in November this year after making a 38.35 percent progress last year.
The project director does not foresee a “chance of an increase in project cost” due to the pandemic.
The Metro Rail-6 project has a budget of Tk 220 billion with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) providing 75 percent of it in the loan.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, the first-ever underwater road in the country, is being constructed to connect Anowara with Chattogram city following a ‘one city-two town’ model.
The three-kilometre tunnel will create a road connection between the Chattogram port area and Anowara Upazila on the other side of the Karnaphuli River.
The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is constructing the tunnel and completed 51 percent of the project in March 2020 when the pandemic peaked. It progressed further to 61 percent in December.
Excavation of one of the 2.5 km tubes underneath the river has already been done and the ring has been installed. For the second tube, excavation work started on Dec 12.
Underneath the riverbed, a 3.4 km tunnel is being constructed with connecting roads and overpasses at both ends.
The project was approved in 2015 but the work began towards the end of 2018 as the release of the funds got delayed. The project is aimed to be completed by December 2022.
They hope to meet the deadline, Project Director Harunur Rashid said.
The total estimated cost for the Bangabandhu Tunnel stands at Tk 98.8 billion. The project cost is not expected to escalate, the director said.