Failure in completing an India-funded 10km cross-border railway line installation project has compelled the government to extend the deadline on the fourth occasion, officials said on Tuesday.
The government's highest economic policy making body -- ECNEC -- on Tuesday extended the project implementation time for one more year up to June 2023, setting a condition for the Bangladesh Railway (BR).
The state-owned railway entity is asked to complete the 10.01km rail track installation work by the newly-set deadline.
Presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the ECNEC set the revised Akhaura (Bangladesh)-Agartola (India) railway line project cost at Tk 4.77 billion at the meeting on Tuesday in the city.
After the meeting, Planning Minister MA Mannan informed newsmen that the ECNEC endorsed six development projects including the railway one in the meeting involving a cost of Tk 87.39 billion.
The Akhaura-Agartola railway line project was started in December 2016 with a target to complete it by December 2018. But the state-owned BR got the execution deadline extended three times
The BR undertook the project with Tk 4.20 billion in Indian grant and Tk 570.5 million from the government's own resources.
But the BR failed to complete the project although the government revised it on three occasions.
When asked, a BR official said the Indian contractor selected for constructing the 10.01km dual-gauge line and 4.25km loop-line on the Akhaura-Agartola route had delayed its work although it was selected in the early stage of the project's inception.
"Despite several requests the Indian contractor delayed the work. Bangladesh and Indian sides had sat together on many occasions on the issue. But it remained unresolved for many year," he said.
The land acquisition delay and the Covid-19 pandemic had also affected its implementation in time, the BR official added.
The official further said the problem had been settled and the contractor was working to complete the railway track installation work by June next year.
The Agartola-Akhaura railway link would connect Akhaura in Bangladesh with an international immigration station at Nischintapur along the India-Bangladesh international border.
The ambitious India-Bangladesh railway connectivity project is expected to reduce travel time between Agartola and Kolkata via Dhaka to 10 hours from 31 hours, since the route would effectively reduce the distance from 1,600 km to 550 km.
However, briefing journalists after the meeting, Planning Minister MA Mannan said the meeting approved a total of 6 projects at a combined cost of Tk 87.39 billion.
"Of the total project cost, Tk 59.29 billion will come from the government coffer of Bangladesh while the remaining Tk 28.11 billion will come as project assistance from development partners," he said.
Of the approved 6 projects, 3 are new while 3 others are revised ones.
The planning minister said the ECNEC approved a Tk 71.88 billion project for Upgradation of Cumilla (Mainamati)-Brahmanbaria (Dharkhar) National Highway into four lanes, Tk 28.10 billion will come from the Indian Line of Credit (LoC).
He opined that the project would turn Sylhet and Chattogram regions into important commercial hubs.
The Roads and Highways Department under the Road Transport and Highways Division will implement the project by June 2026.
Once the project is implemented, it will strengthen the regional communication between India and Bangladesh and will turn Chittagong Port into a centre of international trade and commerce.
Replying to a question, Mannan said that on the whole, the government had been able to convey the message of pursuing austerity at all levels.
"But, we're yet to reach cent percent success in this regard and it's difficult. But, pressure will continue to this end," he said.
Replying to another question, State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam said considering the construction cost, maintenance cost and available facilities, the proposed fare of the metro rail (MRT-6) would not be much and it seems to be rationale.
The other projects approved in the meeting are Upgrading Barishal (Charkauwa) to Lakshmipur via Bhola (Ilsha Ferryghat) road to due standard and width (1st revised) at Tk1.89 billion, Construction of elevated expressway from Lalkhan Bazar to Shah Amanat Airport in Chattogram at Tk10.48 billion, Capacity Enhancement of Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences at Mitford, Cumilla, Faridpur, Barishal and Bogura at Tk 2.15 billion and Nutrition development and poverty alleviation through expansion of Mushroom cultivation at Tk983.4 million.