Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan has warned that if negligence of duty is found, the Indian contractor of the Akhaura-Agartala dual-gauge railway link project would be changed.
Visiting the project site in Akhaura on Thursday, Sujan said, "Hopefully the contractor will understand our concerns. If I see that the works have stopped due to any negligence on his [the contractor's] part, I will be forced to get someone new."
According to a Bangladesh Railway report, the Indian contractor has been appointed to implement the project as per the terms of the Indian Line of Credit. Indian manpower is also working on this project. The construction materials for the project have to be imported from India.
The railway report said the Indian contractor could not bring construction materials from India as manufacturing companies of sleeper and other materials were closed for a long time due to the pandemic. Besides, the Indian manpower employed in the project also faced problems coming to Bangladesh. Due to these reasons, the implementation of the project was delayed and the implementation deadline needs to be extended.
During the visit, the railways minister expressed dissatisfaction over the slow pace of implementation of the project, being implemented with Indian funding, and instructed the Indian contractor to complete the construction fully by next December.
Indian High Commissioner Vikram Kumar Doraiswami was also present at that time.
Talking to the media, the railway minister said, "The contractor we hired has informed us that the installation of railway tracks will be completed by June. The rest of the work may take a little longer. He (the contractor) blamed the Covid pandemic for all the delay. We have to accept the excuse considering the present circumstances."
The minister said, "The project's deadline expires this June. But we will be happy if things are completed by December."
With an aim to establish rail communication with Seven Sister states, including Tripura, in India, implementation of the Akhaura-Agartala dual gauge railway project began in June 2016 with Indian loan funding. The project was scheduled to be completed in two and a half years. But the construction work could not be completed even after extending the deadline three more times.
Already three years behind schedule, the Akhaura-Agartala railway project is going to miss its current deadline of next June too. Even after extending the deadline three times, only half of the construction has been completed so far.
From the beginning, the implementation of the project has been slow. Later, due to Covid pandemic, construction work at the field level was stopped from March 2020.
According to the railway report, implementation of the project was halted as construction materials and Indian manpower working on the project could not reach the project area due to the pandemic.
The last deadline for completion of the project was until next June, but so far only 52% work has been completed. In this situation, the Railway has proposed to extend the deadline for another year, till June 2023. In a letter dated 13 March, the Railway informed the Planning Commission, the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division and the Economic Relations Department (ERD) about the extension of the deadline.
The total length of Akhaura-Agartala railway is 10.5 kilometers with 4 kilometers in India and 6.5 kilometers in Bangladesh. This railway line will run from Gangasagar railway station in Akhaura upazila of Brahmanbaria to Nishchintopur border in Agartala. People of the two countries will be able to travel very easily and at low cost if this much desired railway is constructed.
The contract for the Bangladesh part of the Akhaura-Agartala railway project was signed on 21 May 2016 with Texmaco Rail and Engineering Limited, a New Delhi-based contractor. The contractor started construction of the railway on 29 July, 2016.
India is providing a Tk420.76 crore loan for the Tk477.81 crore project.
Sujan, while addressing the press, said, "This is a very important project for Bangladesh and India. I and Doraiswami are both disappointed to see the slow progress of the project."
The Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh also echoed Sujan.
He said that the prime ministers of the two countries have given utmost importance to the implementation of the project.
"I hope the works will be completed within the extended deadline. We are also under pressure to finish the project quickly."
The minister was accompanied by senior officials of the Bangladesh Railway.