The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has approved seven projects, at a cost of Tk3,462 crore–including the Baroiarhat-Heyako-Ramgarh Road Development Project–in a bid to boost trade with neighboring India.
The approval came at the meeting, Tuesday, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The premier, finance minister and planning minister joined the virtual meeting from Ganabhaban; while other ministers and secretaries were connected to it from Sher-E-Bangla Nagar NEC Conference Room.
"India is quite interested in the road. Once this road is widened, the neighboring country then will be able to send goods to Tripura using Chattogram port," Planning Minister MA Mannan told journalists after the meeting.
The minister said Bangladesh would also benefit from the road regarding trade with India, and therefore the prime minister prioritised the project.
Mannan said a border haat (market) would be set up at Ramgarh.
The project will cost Tk824 crore while India would give Tk581 crore as credit. The deadline of the project has been set for June 2022.
PM drops construction of govt bungalows
Three projects of the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, including the Baroiarhat-Heyako-Ramgarh Road Development project, got Ecnec's approval. Among them, two projects of the ministry had construction proposals for two bungalows for government officials.
The prime minister dropped the bungalow construction proposal. She asked the ministries to assess the total required rest houses across the country, and craft an entirely separate project in this regard, instead of separately approving them for the road transport ministry.
Planning Minister Mannan said the bungalows were required 50-60 years ago and the British colonial rulers built them 100 years ago when road transportation was poor.
"Then, travelling required horse riding, crossing rivers by boats and people staying. However, we, the officials, do to need to stay at night after going to a spot for official purposes. Now officials can start their journeys in the morning, complete the work and return in the afternoon," said the minister.
"But yes, a place is required to take a break and have snacks. A decent cottage is enough for that. There is no need to build huge bungalows. Therefore, the prime minister dropped them and we have to be cautious about this," he added.
No more sluice gates: PM
The prime minister ordered that no sluice gates be constructed anymore. She asked the water resources ministry to prepare an assessment report about the total number of the gates and how many of them currently work.
The planning minister said people in his area are obsessed with the gates.
"The reality is that most of them were built without any assessment and they are out of order now. The water flow has decreased in the country, more than before, due to Farakka Barrage and climate change," commented Mannan.
Emphasis on toll collection from roads
The planning minister said the prime minister has opposed the proposal for toll-free roads and would instead realise tolls to recover costs.
The premier said that sufficient funds are required to construct and maintain roads and highways and for this reason they should not be toll-free.
Mannan said, tolls will be included for roads. Road construction, maintenance and repairs need money.
He said the automated toll collection system should be introduced promptly so that people do not wait for hours in queues. He emphasized the importance of technological and skill development with regard to the collection system.
Apart from this, the prime minister ordered that schools, colleges, mosques, and other institutions be shifted from river-erosion-prone areas.
Mannan said, "We have seen rivers engulf many buildings in just a couple of minutes. We have to understand water flow before construction. Infrastructure in erosion-prone areas should be built in a manner so that they can be shifted to other places if the rivers take on a devastating look."
He said the prime minister ordered that a model of this be created.
Will not argue with CPD: Mannan
In response to a query–over the Centre for Policy Dialogue's (CPD) remark on the statistics bureau's report on gross domestic product growth in last year–the planning minister said, "They [CPD's employees] are researchers, conduct research. I would not go for an argument with them, this is not a matter to fight over."
"The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) is our reliable organisation and they have been working for a long time. We have trust in BBS. We totally rely on the data they provide us and we think this is the exact scenario," he added.
Mannan said the BBS estimation was provisional and the final assessment could be even better than the reported GDP growth.
BBS recently reported 5.24 percent GDP growth in the 2019-20 fiscal year. On Sunday, CPD claimed that the provisional data used by BBS to estimate the growth rate does not reflect the latest economic reality amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other projects that got Ecnec's approval Tuesday are those to: upgrade the Daudkandi-Goalmari-Srirayerchar (Cumilla)-Matlab Uttar (Chengarchar) district highway, replace narrow and risky and old concrete bridges and bailey bridges with new concrete bridges on the highways under the Khulna roads zone, protect Dhulia Lunchghat under Baufal Upazila in Patuakhali and Durgapasha under Bakerganj Upazila in Barishal from river erosion of the Tentulia, end waterlogging at Kapotakshya River (second phase), and create an emergency multi-sector Rohingya crisis response project (first revised).