The Forest Department's plan for a 7.7km road at a cost of Tk5.5 crore inside the Gazipur Safari Park was a simple enough project at first glance. The project was approved and funds were made available for the work to start.
But there was a hidden surprise waiting for the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED). It took a close look in 2019 and found that two kilometres of the proposed 7.7km road had already been built under another project by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED). So the Forest Department was actually going to build a 5.7km road using the fund for a 7.7km road.
Instances of such questionable work and spending are many. Bridges have been made where no roads existed. Buildings are built where structures already exist.
To stop such irregularities and corruption, the Planning Commission has taken an initiative to create a geographical map using the Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing Application (RSA) technology.
This will make it easier for planners to find out whether or not any construction was being duplicated. It is hoped this will stop corruption and irregularities done through duplication.
Not only that, the Planning Commission thinks the initiative will put a stop to projects taken up to build unnecessary infrastructures under influence of politicians or powerful bureaucrats.
Commission officials said sometimes a road, a bridge, or infrastructure is built close to a politician's house under a development project at his wish but those serve the heavyweight and are of little use to the people of the area.
GIS and RSA technology will play a role in stopping such construction that uses public funds, they said.
As an example of such interference, they said a 66-metre bridge was built on the Chera canal on Moyeed-Aliganj road in Sunamganj at a cost of Tk3.24 crore under the important rural bridge construction project.
It was built a year ago next to the house of a local influential person. But if it was built half a kilometre away on the canal in Aliganj Bazar, the local people would have been benefitted.
Additional Secretary to the Planning Division Md Sajedul Qayyum Dulal said it is not possible for Planning Commission officials to make field visits across the country to inspect projects before approving them.
"The public will benefit if infrastructure construction sites are identified using satellite images. If the GIS system is introduced in project approval, it is possible to stop political influence and duplicate work."
A private organisation has already been contracted for developing the software for the technology. It will take one and a half years. From then on, all projects will be verified through GIS and RSA technology before approval.
The Planning Commission and the IMED can monitor the condition of specific sites from satellite images before recommending a project's deadline extension or cost hike. The technology can also measure the area of forestation with square metre precision.
GIS is a computer-based tool for mapping and analysing feature events on earth. The technology integrates common database operations, such as query and statistical analysis, with maps.
Remote sensing is the art and science of making measurements of the earth using sensors on aeroplanes or satellites. These sensors collect data in the form of images and provide specialised capabilities for manipulating, analysing, and visualising those images. Remote sensed imagery is integrated within the GIS.
If a project is approved using this technology, there will be some more benefits.
Planning Commission officials said the use of GIS could save money from project duplication by selecting the shortest, cheapest, and highest utility returning routes, options, technologies, and a combination of them.
GIS can be used for checking vertical, horizontal, and draft clearance for river routes before road bridge projects are approved. It would reduce the loss caused by the reconstruction of bridges to raise them for appropriate height clearance.
GIS and RSA can be used for hydrographic map preparation to calculate the precise volume of dredging, canal re-excavation, road embankment, and other earthwork volume calculations.
Professor Dr Mohammad Shakil Akther of the urban and regional planning department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology said the project approval process through the GIS system is a very good initiative.
He said, "The system will contain information on how development projects were implemented in the last five years or before that. As a result, if a new road or any other infrastructure is constructed or repaired, it will be easy to know when that was done through a map. This can help avoid duality."
Amanat Ullah Khan, a former professor at the University of Dhaka, said the Survey of Bangladesh and the Bureau of Statistics (BBS) have modern GIS maps of the whole country.
"Besides, various agencies, including the Roads and Highways Department, the LGED, and city corporations, have GIS maps. An integrated data store can be built with information from these bodies.
"In addition, there should be steps at the divisional level to update the maps continuously," said Amanat, also the founder chairperson of the Bangladesh Society of Geo-Informatics.
The use of high-resolution satellite images and analysing them using remote sensing techniques can also be used for assessing disaster damage and needs analysis of relief and rehabilitation based on measurable and reliable evidence from such images.
The appropriate locations of cyclone shelters, schools, colleges, universities, and health facilities can be determined using the given spatial criteria, such as the distance from nearby population settlements and that from existing facilities.
A comprehensive asset register can be developed using GIS and RSA databases for all kinds of assets like road infrastructure, bridges, schools, offices, health facilities, sea, land and river ports, container depots, airports, food warehouses, and cold storages.
It will help make future decisions on selecting sites for new facilities, and preparing a deployment plan for emergency equipment and specialised vehicles for rescue and rehabilitation operations during a disaster.
According to a concept paper of the Planning Commission, the use of spatial data will prevent or minimise the environmental damage by analysing the impacts on Ecologically Critical Areas (ECAs), the long-term consequence on floras and faunas of the surrounding areas, and the effects on surface and groundwater quality.
Respective authorised departments and the authorities will acquire and update the data. The commission will have full access to these databases for integrated planning purposes.
The commission's digital service portal can be used by various government departments and authorities for their departmental planning by accessing these databases, said a commission official.