We're Live Bangla Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Padma Bridge expenditure goes up 297 per cent

Padma Bridge is gradually becoming more and more visible and with it, a long-standing dream is inching nearer fulfillment. The latest span of the bridge was put in place on 11 February this year and now 3.6 km of the bridge has come into sight. The first span was put in place on 30 September 2017. When 41 spans are placed in 42 pillars, then the entire 6.15 km of Padma Bridge will come into view.

But the progress has had its hitches. Expenditure has gone up by 297 percent. The costs have escalated in three phases over the past 11 years. The time has been extended too. The project was supposed to have been completed in 2013 and this date has now been extended up till June 2121. The Planning Commission from 3 November this year extended the project term by one and a half years. It has been scheduled for completion by 30 December last year. 

Sources connected to the project have said that this time the project extension has not required any additional costs. However, the Planning Commission has put forward seven conditions, including that there can be no more extension of the project period. Another condition is that the work plan concerning the project progress and implementation as well as details of expenditure, must be regularly submitted to IMED (Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division). The latest cost estimate of the project implementation is Tk 301.93 billion approximately.

The reasons behind the three-phase escalation in costs have been projected as river training, land acquisition and rehabilitation. The largest increase in costs came in 2011 when on 11 January the cost was amended to Tk 205.07 billion due to the addition of a railway line. Prior to that on 28 August 2007, the caretaker government had begun the project at a cost of Tk 101.610 billion.

Actually the project had initially been taken up in 2001 by the Awami League government. On 4 July that year, its foundation had been laid by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Then in the October election that year, governments changed hands. In 2008 Awami League was back at the helm of power and took up the Padma Bridge project again on a priority basis. A contract was signed with the Uk-based Faber Maunsell Ltd – AECOM. In order to lessen costs, it added a railway line to the bridge with a double-storey design.

The government said that the project would be completed by 2013. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Abu Dhabi Development Group came abroad as partners of the project. The World Bank was the main partner but it then moved away from the project, alleging attempts at corruption. The Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank also moved away. The project ground to a halt. The government then took the initiative to fund the project with its own resources.

On 5 January 2016 the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge Construction Project under the bridges division and the expenditure was scaled up by Tk 82.86 billion to Tk 287.93 billion. And the time was extended till December 2018.

At the time, Tk 50 billion was kept for river training purposes. Initially, 8km of river had been determined for this ‘training’ and in 2011 Tk 43.87 had been allocated for the purpose. Then another 1.3 km was added for river training and the cost upped to Tk 50 million. In 2007 the allocation for river training had been on Tk 26.12 billion.

In 2018, for the third time expenditure was pushed up for land acquisition. On 21 June that year, Tk 14 billion was approved for the purpose, and the total cost for Padma Bridge was then Tk 301.93 billion.

In 2007 the project’s budget for land acquisition had been Tk 3.06 billion and in 2011 it was increased to Tk 10.86 billion.

Executive Director of Policy Research Institute Dr. Ahsan H Mansur has termed both river training and land acquisition as areas of corruption, saying that a large addition to costs was made in 2011 and that is justified because of changes in design. However, the increase in the two other sectors later gives rise to doubt.

Referring to Bangabandhu Bridge (Jamuna Bridge), Ahsan H Mansur said that the World Bank had supervised that project, but Padma Bridge had no international supervision. And there had been delays in Jamuna Bridge, but the costs hadn’t escalated to that extent. “That is why we could break even on Jamuna Bridge’s construction costs within 8 or 9 years,” he added.

He is also doubtful as to whether Padma Bridge will be completed within the scheduled time. 

The longer it takes for the bridge to be completed, the longer the people will have to wait for their dream to come true.