On Saturday, the project area of the Mass Rapid Transport Line-6 (MRT-6) under Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd was very quiet. There was not much construction being done. Only some Ansar members, security guards and few regular workers were seen at different points of the project area
Even two weeks ago the entire project area of the country's first metro rail project was vibrant with the sound of heavy cranes and excavators. Digging, piling and casting were everyday work at the sites with a gathering of thousands of workers.
But suddenly everything has changed with the coronavirus outbreak in the country because many workers have left the workplace in panic.
On Saturday, the project area of the Mass Rapid Transport Line-6 (MRT-6) under the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd was very quiet. There was not much construction being done. Some Ansar members, security guards and regular workers were present at different points of the project area, but most of them were sitting idle. Though some were working at several points, the usual vitality was missing.
Some Ansar members were standing in the project area from the front of Hotel Sonargaon to Hotel Intercontinental. In Shahbag, some people were working in front of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University. Some were also seen working at Doyel Chattar. There was no work being done in the area from the National Press Club to Shapla Chattar. Only some security guards and project-related workers were there.
The faces and eyes of the workers revealed concern over the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
"My parents, wife and two children are at home. I am here only for the job," said a worker of Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co Ltd (Japan) and Italian-Thai Development Public Company Ltd (Thailand) JV, a joint venture company building viaducts and elevated stations from Kawran Bazar to the Motijheel area of the project.
"Many of my co-workers have gone home over fear of coronavirus without formally taking leave. The people who worked here on daily contract have also gone. I do not know what I should do. Will the government do anything for us?" he added.
Another worker from the Shapla Chattar area said, "There has been stagnation in work for the last seven days. Most of the daily basis contractual workers are gone. Only permanent workers remain. Some of them could not get leave, others are waiting for their salary."
Five people were working at Shahbag. They said, "There were around 20 workers here, but 15 of them left in fear. We are waiting for the decision of the company or the government. We want to go home to our village."
Three workers were putting a net on the metal rods of a pillar across from the IDB building in Agargaon. Several workers and security guards were also there. They said, "Most of the workers are gone. We are staying to guard the project area. The situation has been like this for the last seven days."
One of them said, "People started to panic at the beginning of March when the first corona patient in Bangladesh was identified. Many workers have gone home since then."
Tekken Corporation (Japan)-Abdul Monem Ltd (Bangladesh)-AB Nikko Kogyu Co Ltd (Japan) JV, a joint venture company, has been working on the MRT-6 project in the Farmgate area of the city. There were a few people working idly in the field office in the area. The security guards of the office said, "There are a few people at the office right now. The progress at the site is also slow due to a lack of workers."
Officials of several contractor companies of the project, on condition of anonymity, said the impact of the coronavirus has reached Bangladesh. The workers of the project have panicked. The companies have taken different safety measures to protect the workers from the virus. We have also given them instructions on how to maintain hygiene.
They said that despite the measures, many workers have already left Dhaka. So far, no decision has been made on the postponement of the project. The government should decide on this.
The Business Standard tried to talk to several high officials of the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), but they refused to comment on the current situation.
However, some of them unofficially said that several high officials of the project, including foreign consultants, are abroad now. Many officials do not want to go to the project area. Almost everybody knows that the workers also do not want to work in this situation. The higher officials will sit for a meeting in the next few days to decide over the matter.
According to the officials, only the managing director of the company has the authority to talk to the media on the matter.
But the DMTCL Managing Director M A N Siddique could not be reached over the phone. An SMS sent to his phone was also unanswered.
One official, Md Nazrul Islam, DMTCL board chairman and secretary of the Road Transport and Highways Division, acknowledged the fact that progress was slow in the project because of coronavirus.
"Everybody is aware of the current situation. We have taken protective measures at the projects areas for the safety of the workers. Yet many workers have gone home. We are not forcing anybody to work. As a result, work on the project has slowed down. The contractors are trying to work with the remaining workers," said Nazrul Islam.
"There has already been significant progress in the project. The bogies of the rail are being manufactured in Japan. A bogie has already been brought to Dhaka from Japan. We hope the work will end in due time there," he added.
"The stagnation that is going on here right now because of the coronavirus will be compensated in the future when the situation returns to normal," he further added.
The metro rail project is being implemented with the goal of being inaugurated on December 16, 2021, the golden jubilee celebration of the country's independence.
The estimated cost of the project is Tk21,985 crore. The implementation period of the project is July 2012 to June 2024.
According to DMTCL, progress in the first phase of the project from Uttara to Agargaon was 69.38 percent until February. The progress on the second phase from Agargaon to Motijheel is 37.80 percent. The overall progress of the project until February was 41.26 percent.