The Bangladesh Railway has changed the project director (PD) of the Laksam-Akhaura Double Line Upgradation Project six times in five years, yet more than 25% of the project remains incomplete.
The Tk6,500 crore project, launched in November 2016, was supposed to end in June 2020. But the government extended the duration by one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, as the work is yet to be completed, the authorities have already started revising the development project proposal (DPP) to extend the duration of the project again.
Sagar Krishna Chakraborty, the first project director, was also head of the Tongi-Bhairab Bazar Double Line project at the time. He was later replaced by Liaquat Ali. The third PD of this project was Mozammel Haque, who in turn was replaced by Dhirendra Nath Majumder, the current Director General of Bangladesh Railway.
Arifuzzaman was appointed the fifth PD and later was replaced by the current Joint Director General (Engineering) of Railways Ramzan Ali.
Railway officials have repeatedly blamed the frequent change of project directors for the delay in the completion of the project.
Shahidul Islam, the current project director, declined to comment on the issue. DN Majumder, former project director and current director general of Bangladesh Railway, was contacted more than once but could not be reached.
A senior official involved in the project told The Business Standard, on condition of anonymity, "From the beginning, there were various complications in the project, including land acquisition. Repeated change of project directors and the negligence of the contractors are also behind the slow progress of the project."
He said, "The movement of passenger trains was stopped during the lockdown but the authorities could not take advantage of this situation and proceed with the project due to these reasons (change of project directors and negligence of the contractors)."
The Dhaka-Chattogram 321 km railway already had a 118 km long double line. After 2008, 131 km of the railway were double lined through two projects. The current project is ongoing to upgrade the remaining 72 km as a dual gauge double line.
On 4 November, the contractors sent a letter to the Construction Supervision Consultant, the project's consulting firm, to assess the damage and extend the deadline. According to the letter, there are still 16 obstacles in Section-1 of the project. In addition, there are a total of 321 infrastructural obstacles in the project area, including 278 in Section-2. They claimed these obstacles have to be removed by the Bangladesh Railway.
The letter noted that due to these obstacles and Covid-19, the project could not be completed within the stipulated time. It also proposed an increase in the cost of the project by about Tk400 crore.
However, Bangladesh Railway denied these claims of the contractors. In a letter sent to the consulting company on 15 December 2020, the then project director Md Ramzan Ali complained about the negligence and substandard work of the contractors.
The letter mentioned that there was a condition that the company had to build new stations before demolishing the existing railway stations in the project area. It said the authorities have found evidence of low-standard work in Akhaura, Gangasagar, Imambari, Kashba, Mandbagh, Saldandi, Shashidal and Rajapur. Bangladesh Railway also referred to a violation of the contract in many cases.
The total cost of the project is Tk6,504.54 crore, of which the government is providing Tk1,026.66 crore while Tk5,046.8 crore is coming from ADB and EIB (European Investment Bank).
There were complexities surrounding land acquisition for the project at the beginning. At present, 90% of the land acquisition complexities have been resolved.
The government has extended the duration of the project by one year till June 2021. However, people concerned are worried that the work of the project will not be completed before 2022.
CTM Joint Venture, Max and Toma Group are the contractors for the project. Under the project, 46 bridges and culverts, including 13 big bridges, will be constructed on the 72 km line. Apart from this, the contractors will construct 11 B-class railway stations with computerised signal systems.