The timely completion of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge – the government's top priority project – is uncertain now because of a manpower shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the foreign experts and local workers have already left the workplace while a good number of Chinese workers are stranded in their country due to the lockdown.
As a result, work has almost come to a standstill even though the fund supply is normal.
The Bridges Division wants to utilise Tk5,000 crore for the fast-track project from the upcoming fiscal year's (2020-21) Annual Development Programme (ADP), but spending the money has become a challenge in the present context.
Because of slow implementation due to the coronavirus crisis, only around half the allocation for the Padma bridge from the current fiscal year's revised ADP has been spent. There are only three months left to spend the remaining fund.
The 2019-20 fiscal year initially earmarked around Tk5,371 crore for the project, but the allocation dropped to Tk4,015 crore in the revised ADP.
Officials of the Bridges Division said they have sent a proposal of Tk5,000 crore allocation for the Padma bridge in the upcoming fiscal year to the Planning Commission, but are concerned whether the fund can be used.
When the government enforced a countrywide shutdown to stem the spread of Covid-19, work on all projects, like the Padma bridge, came to a halt. The lockdown in the country is hampering project implementation, they said.
Project Director Shafiqul Islam said they doubt they will be able to meet the schedule for completing the bridge within the June 2021 deadline.
"Even though we have arranged adequate safety measures, many foreign consultants have gone back to their countries while many are waiting to leave. Work cannot progress without consultants because they ensure project quality," he said.
He further said that some Chinese workers have come back to Bangladesh but around 2,000 more are yet to return. Besides, they still do not know how long the lockdown will continue. As a result, the project is not progressing.
There was only 2 percent progress in construction during the first three months of 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic severely affected the project, according to sources at the Bridges Division.
The Padma bridge project was initiated in July 2007 at an estimated cost of Tk10,162 crore, and was supposed to be completed by August 2015. But work actually began in 2014 after a long delay. The project cost, in the meantime, went up several times to stand finally at Tk30,193 crore.
Officials of the Bridges Division said 28 out of 41 spans have so far been installed on the Padma bridge, but the authorities cannot install any more in the absence of Chinese experts.
The Bridges Division has spent around 73 percent of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project's total budget till March 2020, with overall progress being 78.5 percent. Meanwhile, the main bridge construction saw around 87 percent progress.