The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is constructing a bridge over the river Andharmanik in Patuakhali. The main structure of the bridge is complete and the link roads are under construction. The bridge will be inaugurated soon. Yet the Road and Highways Department (RHD) has called for tenders for the construction of another bridge just 3km away from this one. Why?
It was found that the bridge awaiting inauguration is not fit for heavy vehicular traffic. A bridge is required with the capacity to carry heavy vehicles of the Payra deep sea port in Patuakhali and other establishments of the area. That is why the new bridge is to be constructed.
Before work of the first bridge began, the Payra port authorities had written to LGED asking that the bridge be constructed with the capacity to carry heavy vehicles. LGED paid no heed and began construction in 2016. Now the Payra port authorities are having the other bridge made by RHD at a cost of Tk 7.35 billion (Tk 735 crore). The first one’s construction costs were Tk 1.20 billion (Tk 120 crore). And roads will also have to be made on either side of the new bridge.
Former secretary of the government and infrastructure expert Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan has said that this is a double expenditure, a waste of public money. The two bridges in close proximity to each other over the river Andharmanik is an example of how the various establishments in the country take up development projects without bothering to consider the real requirements and impact.
Fouzul Khan went on to say that such incidents are taking place all over the country. There is no effective system for coordination between the various agencies. It was the planning commission’s responsibility to ensure this coordination, but there is lack of coordination among the various departments of the commission too.
The plan of the bridge had already been made long before Payra port authorities approached us. There was nothing for us to do then
When asked about such a lack of coordination, planning commission member (secretary) Mamun Al-Rashid told Prothom Alo, “The nature of work of the Roads and Highways Department and that of the Local Government Engineering Department is almost the same. From the planning commission we have told the two agencies to prepare properly in future.”
One river, three bridges
If the proposed bridge is constructed, there will be three bridges over the river Andharmanik in Patuakhali, and all within 10km of the river. The first bridge was constructed in 2016 in the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s eldest son Sheikh Kamal. This links Patuakhali with Kuakata. To the east of this, is that bridge of LGED. This will also link Patuakhali with Kuakata and Payra port’s connecting roads. And to the east of this is the proposed third bridge which will connect Patuakhali with Payra port, Payra power plant and Sher-e-Bangla naval base. The Roads and Highways Department has called for tenders for the bridge and work may begin by June this year.
The 677-metre bridge constructed by LGED at the Baliatali ferry ghat of Kalapara upazila in Patuakhali has been named after one of four national leaders, Syed Nazrul Islam.
According to experts, when bridges are constructed over a river, the water flow is obstructed. There is fear of navigability being reduced. Speaking to Prothom Alo, the member secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan’s Kalapara regional committee, Mesbah Uddin, said that if three bridges are constructed within a span of 8 to 10km, this will have a serious negative impact on the water flow of the river. The silt layer in the river will increase.
He said the river Andharmanik of a sanctuary for the fish hilsa. If water flow falls, this will naturally have an effect on the presence of hilsa.
LGED least bothered about letter
The government decided eight years ago to set up a deep sea port at Payra in Patuakhali. Other than the port, the same year a mega plan was taken up to establish a power plant and an economic zone in Patuakhali. The need for a bridge for heavy vehicular traffic emerged then. And at the same time LGED took the decision to construct a bridge there.
Director of the Syed Nazrul Islam bridge project Ruhul Amin Khan told Prothom Alo, LGED constructs bridges for rural roads communication, not for heavy vehicular traffic. Vehicles with the capacity to carry a maximum of 20 tonnes will be able to cross the bridge constructed by LGED.
He said, “The plan of the bridge had already been made long before Payra port authorities approached us. There was nothing for us to do then.”
The Payra port authorities said that containers will be carrying up till 40 tonnes of the port and other projects. The heavy containers will not be able to use the bridge made by LGED. Deputy chief engineer of the Payra port authority, Nasir Uddin, told Prothom Alo if the Syed Nazrul Islam Bridge had been made with the capacity to bear the load of heavy machinery, then there would have been no need for yet another bridge.
Planning commission files indicate that the new bridge over the river Andharmanik was to be constructed under the project ‘First terminal of Payra port and related facilities.’ This project was approved in January 2019 at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC). The total expenditure of the project was Tk 39.82 billion (Tk 3,982 crore). The entire project was to be completed in December this year. The Payra port authorities, however, have extended the project term till 2023.
There are allegations on anomalies even in the bridge which the Payra port authorities are having constructed by RHD. Project papers reveal that the length of the bridge had been determined without any detailed study. The cost was also based on an estimate. Then a detailed study was conducted by a South Korean consultant firm last year, and now it is noted that the length of the bridge is being increased along with costs.
When approved, the length of the bridge was determined to be 1050 metres. After the study the length is having to be increased by 130 metres and the cost has been increased from Tk 3.24 billion (Tk 324 crore) to Tk 735 crore (Tk 7.35 billion).
The height of Payra port’s jetty, in the meantime, is also being increased. Overall, the project cost has been increased by Tk 5.34 billion (Tk 534 crore) to Tk 45.16 billion (Tk 4,516 crore). Concerning the inflation of the project’s costs, planning commission member Mamun Al-Rashid said that in the beginning there had been no detailed study of the project. Then when the work was taken up, all sorts of problems emerged. Changes had to be made in the design.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that several bridges should not be constructed over the same river. At the ECNEC meeting on 3 January this year, she said that the flow of rivers should not be impeded by randomly constructed bridges and that the proper height of the bridges should maintained so as not to obstruct the movement of vessels in rivers and canals. She also ordered that legal action be taken against the persons responsible for the anomalies in project design, delay and wastage of funds.
When asked why there was no coordination among various agencies of the government, former chief economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office, Zahid Hossain, told Prothom Alo, the main cause is a conflict of power. No ministry or agency wants to hand over their control to anyone else. Yet all ministries are part of the government. He said, stern action must be taken against those involved in these anomalies.
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir