It has been hardly two years that the work on expanding the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway to four lanes has been completed at double the estimated cost.
But the road is already in great need of repair.
And so another project involving over Tk 739 crore to repair and maintain the highway will be presented before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) meeting on September 5 for final approval.
Completed over a decade time, the roads actually developed potholes and cracks within seven months of the project completion and the Road Transport and Highways Department (RTHD) made the proposal for repair long back which has been waiting for approval.
The planning commission and the highways authorities have blamed faulty construction and an excessive movement of heavy vehicles for the highway to get into a bad shape so early.
If the ECNEC approves the repair proposal, the RTHD will implement it within June 2023.
Economists, however, raised their eyebrows at the proposal for the highway maintenance, whose construction completed only in 2017 with spending over Tk3,439 crore.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank, Dhaka chapter, said fresh allocations for repairing the highway, immediately after constructing it with a huge amount of money, indicate to nothing but misappropriation of public fund.
“Giving funds for maintenance of roads and highways to keep them worth using is essential, but what is most necessary is to find out the reason why the highway has been in a bad shape within a short period,” he said.
He called for bringing all the people, involved in irregularities during construction of the Dhaka-Ctg highway, under law.
“After identifying liabilities of people involved in each stage of the project, from project processing to approval to supervision to implementation, they should be punished duly,” he said.
If the contractors are responsible, they should be compelled to compensate, return the money or reconstruct the highway at their own cost. Or else, contractors of other projects will also tend to indulge in corruption, he opined.
The RTHD sent the proposal, involving around Tk944 crore for maintenance of the highway in the next five years, to the Planning Commission first in March 2018, only nine months after the highway was completed.
But Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal sent it back for further assessment by an inter-ministerial committee, as the project was not included in the Annual Development Program of that fiscal.
In light of recommendations made by the committee, the RTHD again sent an amended proposal, involving around Tk501 crore for a four-year maintenance of the highway, to the commission.
Finally, the Project Implementation Committee of the commission, in its latest meeting, approved the project, at a cost of Tk793.14 crore, to implement it from July this year to June 2023.
Earlier, the government approved a project in 2005 to elevate the 192-kilometre Dhaka-Ctg highway, from Daudkandi in Cumilla to Chattogram, to a four-lane one within 2010, involving Tk1,699 crore.
But the project, after having been amended as many as seven times, took 6.5 more years to be completed at a cost of over Tk3,439 crore, more than double the original estimation.
Soon after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened the highway for transports in July 2016, the bitumen carpet wore off and potholes popped up in many places.
However, in an aim to ensure full usability and durability of the highway, including economic development and safe communication through performance-based maintenance and strengthening pavement, the government is undertaking the four-year-long project.
According to the proposal, the highway needs maintenance and upkeep to ensure full usability and resilience as excessive vehicles ply it every day.
Under the project, the RTHD will spend more than Taka three crore for 78 thousand cubic metre soil work in road embankment, informed the proposal.
About the project, Shamima Nargis, member of the Physical Infrastructure Department of the Planning Commission, said a developed, safe, sustainable and cost-effective communication between Dhaka and Chattogram will be established once the project is implemented.
As a result, a socio-economic development will take place in the life of the people of this area, alongside ensuring national economic progress, she claimed.
However, the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division under the Planning Ministry recently informed, after assessing the Dhaka-Ctg four-lane promotion project, that the highway was depressed in both sides and the bitumen carpet was damaged within only two years.
Besides, the load limit of vehicles was illogically doubled, and there were faults in the Development Project Proposal (DPP), too.
The IMED report also said, as the highway has no separate lane for slow-moving vehicles, zebra crossing and signal, the number of road accidents has also increased, although the highway reduced 3-4 hours for the Dhaka-Ctg communication.
The faults in the DPP made it necessary to repeatedly amend the project, resulting in sluggishness in implementation and increase in cost, the report added.