Work to set up the Jamalpur Economic Zone, which was supposed to be completed in 2017, is progressing slowly. The project plan's implementation has been stalled at the land acquisition phase for two years.
The Tk330 crore projects plan began being implemented in January 2016. After the stipulated time expired, the deadline to implement the project plan was twice extended.
In the first week of this month, the deadline was extended for a third time – until December 2020.
Earlier, the project's Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) visited the project site in November 2019. The IMED report points to several reasons for the project's delay and suggested the deadline again be extended by a year.
Accordingly, the Planning Commission has given one more year to the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority to finish the work – until December 2020.
IMED says the project's risk management will be unable to finish the work by the stipulated deadline. A total of 42.70 percent of the project's funding has been spent on acquiring land; while work on the overall project is 21.46 percent complete.
Regarding the matter, project director Saidur Rahman said as per the agreement, 98 percent of the work of filling the soil has been completed. The soil filling was meant to protect the area from floodwater. However, the project must be modified as there is no allocation to increase the site's height.
After the earth filling, the project's level is four-to-five feet lower than the height of the Jamalpur-Tangail highway. The area is prone to floods and is submerged almost every year. Additionally, floodwaters intermittently reach the highway.
The IMED report said necessary measures should be taken to adjust the height of the project area to meet that of the highway to protect the EZ from floodwater.
The project director said there is a delay in land acquisition as there is a 20-acre village in the project area. Some Tk60-crore-more funding – absent in the project proposal – is needed to acquire this 20-acre area of Borovita.
In these circumstances, more khas (government) land is necessary to implement the project plan, he added.
The economic zone is being established on 436.7 acres of land in: Raghunathpur, Dighauli, Sultannagar, Joaner Para, Haridrahata, Chhontia and Gazail moujas at Digpait in Jamalpur Sadar. Of that, 92.95 acres is government land and 343.97 acres of land must be acquired.
The project implementing authority, so far, has occupied/acquired 235 acres of land out of 343.97. The remaining 108.97 acres of land has not yet been handed over to them.
A prospectus has been distributed to allocate land in the Jamalpur Economic Area. IMED said the project plan must be completed quickly in a bid to create the required environment, in the economic zone, to attract foreign and other investment.
Nine months and 20 days after the approval by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, the project received its administrative approval. The delay caused by bureaucratic complexities. For this reason, project work started late.
The IMED report also cited the implementation of the main work of the project plan has been delayed due to a lack of timely soil filling in the project area. The work to fill the soil was scheduled to be completed in October 2018, but it was not done. Its deadline has been extended six times. Later, the deadline for the soil filling was extended until October 2019, and after that, 2 percent of the soil filling work was left.
Due to delays in obtaining designs and estimating the timetable for public works on the project, the project plan was not implemented by the deadline, the IMED report read.
As part of the project, the following are being constructed: two dormitories, a boundary wall, a DRS station, water supply, a link road. Of those, they belatedly received the designs for the construction of: drains, walkways, streetlights, sentry boxes, a water supply line, and an adequate number of tube wells. The design of many other components has yet to be determined. So, tenders for those have not yet been floated.
During a spot visit, IMED discovered that the timetable for public works has been delayed because the project's earth filling has not yet been completed. Building the public works – the boundary walls of power substation and most of the connecting roads– has not yet started.
The review of the Development Project Proposal (DPP) for the project found three packages for procuring goods and seven packages for public works. In March 2017, the tender for land development was floated. Due to delay in preparing tender documents it took eight months to select a contractor company through the tender and sign an agreement with them.
The contractor was given a 15-month deadline to develop the land. A new package, extends the deadline by 23-months over six phases.
Tenders have been floated for other packages of the project. However, the expenditures for electrical fittings, gate construction, water supply, drainage, an effluent treatment plant, and constructing a walkway have yet to be reviewed.
Another delay occurred when the local community protested against dredging work on a wetland of the khas land located in the north-west side of the project area. People from the community, and misbehaving workers of the contractor company, removed the pipes installed for dredging.
Former Project Director Syed Nurul Basir said due to reluctance of residents of Borovita village to relocate another place there was a delay in Land acquisition. Despites repeated attempts, we failed to convince the residents of Borovita village to sell their lands.
The government recently decided that the land of that village must be acquired, he added.
When asked about the delay in public works design, Nurul Basir said for delay in land accusation and in getting permission from the administration, there was a delay in making the design of public works.
Officials of Beza said the villagers protested the soil filling in the project as they earlier got benefited from this Khas land. Public representatives also supported the villagers in protesting land development. For the delay in soil filling, its deadline has been extended six times.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instructed all concerned to avoid houses and cultivable land while implementing the project plans of any development project, including in economic zones.
The residents of a village called Borovita are facing problems because of short-sightedness when the location for Jamalpur Economic Zone was decided.
Once the project is completed, the residents of that village will have no way to access their village. Meanwhile, having a village in the middle of the economic zone will be impractical. Regarding the matter, IMED proposes to acquire 20 acres of Borovita village land and relocate its villagers.
IMED officials said work on the project has also been interrupted due to frequent changes of project director. Six project directors thus far have been changed in the ongoing project. The prime minister has instructed that a single director remain onboard for projects above Tk50-crore. A new project director will need at least six months to understand the project plan.
The report said the project is located in Jamalpur Sadar. However, the project office is at Karwan Bazar in the capital city. It is difficult to monitor work on the project from Dhaka without a Jamalpur office.