Money paid as compensation for acquiring private land now eats up the most part of cost of projects belonging to the Roads and Highways Department (RHD).
The recent hike in the official rate of compensation payments to the owners against acquisition of their land is forcing the agency to make higher payments than before.
According to the Acquisition and Requisition of Inland Property Act 2017, all the government agencies are now required to pay the land owners three times the market value of property.
The land prices are determined according to the rates fixed by the government for mouzas.
Officials familiar with the development said RHD suffers the most in small schemes as it has to earmark 70 to 80 per cent of a project cost for land acquisition.
"In some cases, the funds involved in acquisition make up about 90 per cent of the costs of projects," said an official.
He said some important projects have been shelved or abandoned on the grounds of soaring land acquisition costs.
Officials said the ministry of road transport and bridges recently cancelled a project proposal for building a connecting road in Laksmipur district as money paid as compensation for acquisition of land was shown to be 95 per cent of the total project cost.
In the Tk 3.23 billion link road project, some Tk 3.07 billion was estimated for the acquisition of land.
Also, the RHD shelved an overpass project because of the high cost earmarked for land acquisition.
The state-owned highway and regional road developer had earlier estimated the total cost of the overpass construction project at only Tk 2.2 billion.
In contrast, the cost of land acquisition alone reached Tk 4.8 billion.
Both projects were crucial to diverting traffic from the highways.
Officials said not only small projects, but big projects face similar problems.
Citing the example of Elenga-Hatikamrul-Rangpur highway four lane project, the officials said the RHD has to acquire 491.5 acres of land for widening only 190.4 kilometre highway.
The project office has not received the estimates from respective deputy commissioners' offices yet.
But officials said project costs will increase significantly.
Elenga-Hatikamrul-Rangpur highway has been planned to be an expressway at a cost of Tk 118.99 billion.
The road is part of the Asian Highway.
The RHD officials dismissed the allegation of the project's 'bloated' costs.
They said the land acquisition costs are estimated by respective deputy commissioners' offices.
The RHD has no involvement with it, the officials added.
An official said estimates of the DC offices are also rough calculations, which are used for preparation of the development project proposals.
The actual cost may go up further at the time of project implementation, said the official.
On being informed about the demand for land acquisition, DC offices serve a notice in the areas and land prices are calculated as per the rate of mouzas.
But people familiar with the situation said there are instances where fake land transferers were arranged.
Due to the budget related complications, the RHD has now taken a new strategy for separating the land acquisition segments from the main projects.
The Dhaka-Sylhet highway four-lane project has now been divided into two projects -- one relating to acquire of 399 hectare of lands at a cost of Tk 42.75 billion and another to construct 214 km highway at a cost of Tk 114.11 billion.
The RHD officials said this support project has been taken up in compliance with a recent directive of the government.