The coronavirus could not stop work on the much-anticipated Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, although the entire country has been at a standstill with most fast track government projects remaining halted almost all through the final quarter of FY2019-20 owing to the pandemic.
The Bridges Division said it spent 99 percent of its total allocation for the Padma Bridge for the just-concluded fiscal year, while the overall implementation rate of the government's annual development programme was slightly above 57 percent in the same period.
This significant difference between the Padma Bridge and other development projects of the government in terms of progress they have made amid the pandemic reflects a strong commitment of the people engaged with the country's proud project, according to the Bridges Division.
The fact remains, though, that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has forced one-third of the 1,200 foreign personnel involved with the project to leave the country, slowing down its pace of progress. As a result, the completion of the project could well be delayed.
"Even though we have arranged adequate safety measures, many foreign consultants have gone back to their home countries, while many others are waiting to leave. So, the construction work may see a slowdown," Shafiqul Islam, project director of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, told The Business Standard.
The Tk30,193 crore bridge is supposed to be completed by June 2021. But that target may not be achieved because of the absence of foreign experts involved in the project. The previous deadline for the bridge to be inaugurated had been set for December 2019.
Meanwhile, the Bridges Division spent nearly Tk23,269 crore, which is 77 percent of the project's total budget, till June 2020.
The government had initially allocated Tk5,371crore for the Padma Bridge project for FY2019-20. Later, the figure was revised down to Tk4,015 crore. Of the revised amount, Tk3,996 crore was spent in the last fiscal year.
The Padma Bridge is the government's highest priority fast-track project. The overall physical progress of the project was 80 percent till June this year, while the physical progress of the main bridge was 89 percent and that of river training was 73 percent.
About 4.65 kilometers of the much-anticipated Padma Bridge have become visible with the installation of its 31st span till June. Ten more spans will be installed to complete the 6.15 kilometre giant structure.
The Padma Bridge project commenced in July 2007 at an estimated cost of Tk10,162 crore and was supposed to have been completed by August 2015. However, work on it began after a long delay in 2014.
The project cost has also gone up several times, eventually reaching a figure of Tk30,193 crore.
Commenting on the slow progress of the project in the absence of foreign experts, Dr Md Shamsul Hoque, professor of civil engineering at BUET, said, "We appointed foreign consultants for the implementation of mega projects in line with conditions set by the development partners. But they are not coming to Bangladesh."
He also suggested that the government should take steps to allay Covid-19 fears in order to resume construction work in full swing.
"Medical units should be established at every construction site, like the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project," he said, adding that the costs of projects will increase due to coronavirus prevention measures.
The government's job will be to restore the confidence of all those involved in construction work. It must ensure healthcare at the construction sites.
He said, "The government should also introduce health insurance for workers. Covid-19 testing booths should be set up at project sites. If someone gets infected, the government has to make all the arrangements for his treatment."
An isolation centre must be set up on every construction site as well, he added.