How does one explain the dismal performance of the Bangladesh Railways in the ADP (Annual Development Plan) implementation of its high priority projects in the last fiscal? News on the issue has come up prominently in the newspapers recently. Clearly, when the urgency of revamping the Bangladesh Railway -- a long-felt need left to utter neglect for decades -- is a top priority, this is highly frustrating for those who eagerly want the BR to deliver its services efficiently.
Sadly, the Bangladesh Railways (BR) was the worst performer among the large government agencies in the last fiscal as it could reportedly spend less than 60 per cent of its total allocations. It was able to spend only 57 per cent of its total Tk 102.49 billion outlay in FY2020. All other ministries and divisions of the government utilised 80 per cent of the total Tk 2.01 trillion Annual Development Programme (ADP) outlay. The railways ministry was the fifth highest ADP recipient among all ministries and divisions in the last fiscal, but it was at the bottom in terms of attaining ADP target. As a result, some of the major railway projects are facing serious uncertainty-- fraught with time and cost overrun. One such project was the construction of dual-gauge rail line and conversion of all existing rail tracks into double line between Akhaura and Laksham which should have been completed by June last year. But the Tk 65.04 billion project witnessed little over 70 per cent progress, and is now set for time and cost revision. It has been learnt that the railways have undertaken 37 investment projects but progress of work in most of them is way behind the target. Since the FY2010, although the government has been putting huge funds to improve its services, the BR had been failing to execute its projects under the ADP on time.
While the covid-19 is largely attributed to have slowed down works of many projects in the last fiscal, BR officials have been quoted as saying that development project work capacity of the state-run entity had fallen over the last few years due mainly to the failure to streamline big projects like the Padma Railway link and limited manpower. The ECNEC in May 2016 approved the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (PBRLP) to connect the capital with Jashore with a 169km rail line over the under-construction Padma Bridge. The deadline of the Tk 392.46 billion project is June 2024 and it witnessed only 25 per cent progress till June this year.
Observers are worried that if the current course of project implementation continues, mere allocation of hard earned funds might end up in turning the BR into a perennially loss-incurring state agency. As a result, returns on the huge investments may be too far to look up to. The efforts of the government in restoring the railways to its rightful place as the most convenient mode of transportation needs dynamic moves and effective mechanisms. There is no alternative to speedy implementation of the projects.