Tuesday, 24 May, 2022

Akhaura-Agartala rail link project to face further delay

The Bangladesh portion of the Akhaura-Agartala dual-gauge rail line project has been limping for nearly four years, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and delay from the contractor’s part, though it was supposed to be implemented by 18 months.

The important project is being implemented with Indian grants to improve the India-Bangladesh rail connectivity. The total length of the line is 14.26km of which 10.5km falls in Bangladesh side.

The project’s duration has been extended three times but it has not yet been completed even though work on the Indian portion advanced a lot. Bangladesh Railway is now trying to extend the project time once again, official sources said.

Indian contractor Texmaco Rail & Engineering Limited is constructing the rail line. So far, the project has seen 52 percent physical progress and 40.54 percent financial progress and it is not likely to meet the current June 2022 deadline.

The project steering committee of the Ministry of Railways has recently discussed the necessity of extending the project time by one more year. But it has decided not to extend the contract tenure with the contractor, the railway sources said. 

“The Ministry of Railways has proposed extending the time for one year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and other reasons, including contractor’s problem,” said ministry official SM Salimullah Bahar.

The Planning Commission will extend the deadline after recommendation of Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED), he informed.

In line with the terms and conditions tagged with Indian funds, 65 percent of the project’s construction materials have to come from India. But the construction work faced a setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Change in project director was also a major reason behind the delay. The project work got hampered after previous Project Director Md Shuboktagin was replaced by Abu Jafar Mian.

Md Shuboktagin said the Covid-19 pandemic was a major setback for the project as the Indian consultant could not reach the project site as well while the rail sleeper factory also remained closed during the pandemic.

Project officials said the contractor has to wait for nearly six months for getting their bills on completion of the official procedure of the two countries. As a result, the contractor has decided to complete the work with its own money and then submit the bills.

Besides, the delay in land acquisition has been blamed by the project officials for the delay in implementation.

However, the project work has now resumed in full swing as the problem of rail sleepers has been removed with the resumption of supply from India.

The Bangladesh government in August 2016 approved the Tk 4.78 billion project to improve the rail connectivity and boost trade between Bangladesh and India.

Of the estimated project cost, Bangladesh will provide Tk 570.5 million while the rest will come from India as grant.

There were eight railway interchanges between Bangladesh and India until India-Pakistan war in 1965.

To improve the connectivity between the two countries, the governments of Bangladesh and India have already revived five interchanges -- Benapole-Petrapole, Darshana-Gede, Rohanpur-Singabadh, Biral-Radhikarpur and Chilahati-Haldibari.

Work for the revival of another interchange -- Shahbajpur-Mahishasan -- is underway.

The rail link is expected to open up markets of India's northeastern states for Bangladesh, enhance smooth transportation of goods and facilitate people-to-people contact.

The resumption of the rail connectivity between India and Bangladesh will also reduce transport cost and save time.