Bangladeshis pressed into the Padma Rail Link project to cover for Chinese absentees
The Chinese contractors working on the Padma Bridge and the Padma Rail Link projects have claimed that they have taken all-out measures to overcome the slowdown in project works caused by coronavirus.
The construction works on these two mega projects have been affected owing to the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the contractor company China Railway Group Limited (CREC).
CREC Project Director for the rail link project, Wang Kun said some business firms, involved with the projects, are not currently operating fully in China while some project officials, who are now on leave, cannot return as they are not allowed to leave the epicentre -- the Chinese province of Hubei, affecting the progress of the construction works.
Wang Kun briefing the media at the project office of CREC in Keraniganj, near Dhaka yesterday, however, said CREC has been working all-out to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus to make sure that the continuity of the project works is not adversely affected.
Project officials from Chinese provinces other than Hubei who were on leave have already returned to Bangladesh, Kun said, adding that the leave period of officials from other regions in China have also been curtailed. Besides, project officials who are staying in Bangladesh have been asked not to take their annual leave until further notice, he noted.
In a bid to complete project works speedily to make up for the loss already caused by the coronavirus, the employees have been asked to work on their weekly holidays, Wang Kun told the media.
Moreover, in the absence of an adequate number of Chinese workers, the contractor has appointed additional skilled workers from Bangladesh.
Kun went on to say they are importing the equipment and machinery necessary for the rail link project from different sources to ensure smooth completion of the project. They are also strengthening communication with logistic firms to ensure adequate supply of necessary materials and equipment.
Speaking at the same press briefing, Chinese Ambassador in Bangladesh Li Jiming said Bangladesh is facing the highest risk to be affected by novel coronavirus outbreak as the virus has already spread in different parts of the globe.
"The virus has spread in the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh. It has also spread in the Middle East where Bangladesh has economic relations. So, Bangladesh must prepare at this moment to prevent a possible coronavirus outbreak," he said.
Terming the process "unscientific", the ambassador urged the authorities to screen not only Chinese nationals but everyone entering the country and discouraged the government against holding large gatherings.
He also said that the screening facility in the country is inefficient because only a person's body temperature is being measured. He also urged the setting up of a dedicated hospital to handle COVID-19 cases.
The Chinese ambassador requested the Bangladeshi government to extend the visa period of the Chinese citizens currently living in Bangladesh as Beijing has already taken the same measure for Bangladeshi citizens in China.
He said China Major Bridge, the contractor of the Padma Bridge has already brought four robots to accelerate the works.
According to sources at the Bridges Division, the Padma Bridge project employs the highest number of Chinese workers, which stand at around 900.
They said, "Around 300 engineers and specialists involved with the project have got stuck in China but the Chinese government is not letting them to return. This is why the pace of construction work on the Padma Bridge project has already slowed down."
Md Kamaruzzaman, deputy project director of Padma Bridge project said, "The work of Padma Bridge project has been slowed down due to coronavirus outbreak. Two spans of the bridge is still in China. No initiative to bring these spans to Bangladesh can be taken within the next two months."
"The work will not get full pace before next June," he expressed apprehension.
Meanwhile, Golam Faqruddin A Chowdhury, project director for the Padma Rail Link project said, as many as 5,500 local workers have been employed by the implementing agency to accelerate the progress of the project.
He said geological survey and alignment design of the project have been completed. The project achieved 11.3 percent financial progress. The priority section of the project, rail line from Mawa to Bhanga, will be completed by next year.
According to Wang Kun, CREC has taken up effective and necessary measures to attain two targets following the coronavirus outbreak. First, they wanted to make sure that no official involved with the rail project are infected with the coronavirus; and secondly, they wanted to make sure that continuing progress of the project is not hampered.
No officials involved with the project have thus far been affected with the virus, thanks to the adequate precautionary measures taken up by the contractor firm, claimed Wang Kun.
Work on the iconic Padma Bridge project began in 2007. The caretaker government at the time approved of the project on 28 August 2017 at a cost of Tk101.61 billion.
Later, as Awami League came to power, the railway line was added to the project and the expenditure was first amended on 11 January 2011. The present expenditure of the project stands at about Tk30,200 crore.
According to project authorities, physical progress of the main bridge was 86 percent while the overall progress was 77 percent till mid-February this year.
The 25th span of the 6.15-kilometre long Padma Bridge was installed on the 29th and the 30th pillars at Jajira point in Shariatpur district on February 21.
With the installation of the span, 3,750 metres of the main structure of the mega bridge has become visible.
Installation of all 41 spans will be completed within next July as three spans would be set up in a month.
Besides, the construction of 38 pillars has already been finished among 42 pillars.
According to experts, the national economy is expected to witness 1.2 percent GDP growth rate, while 0.84 percent poverty will be reduced every year after completion of the bridge.
Padma Bridge Rail Link
The Bangladesh Railways signed a Tk24,749 crore commercial contract for a Tk39,247 crore Padma Bridge Rail Link with China Railway Group Limited on August 8, 2016 to develop the broad gauge single railway track on both sides of the Padma Bridge, the country's longest bridge, under a government-to-government arrangement.
But the commercial contract, however, came into effect on July 3, 2018, due to delay in signing the loan agreement with the Chinese Exim Bank. The loan contract was signed on April 27, 2018.
The Chinese contractor had earlier sought time extension by more than a year due to the delay.
However, the contractor also failed to confirm the design of the rail track due to failure of trial piles.
According to the contractor company, a financial progress of 11.3 percent has been achieved so far. They also hope to complete the Mawa to Bhanga priority section of the rail link in the next year.
Padma Bridge Rail Link is scheduled to be completed by 2023.