The much neglected rail sector continues to get the government's attention with a good budgetary allocation this year along with emphasis on funding four foreign aided large rail projects.
These four projects alone claimed more than three fourths of the rail budget as their funds were already available. These are the China funded Padma Bridge rail, Japan funded Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib rail, the ADB funded Hathazari-Cox's Bazar-Gundum rail and the India funded Khulna-Mongla port rail projects.
The finance minister said that this year will see the beginning of the implementation of the high-speed Dhaka-Chittagong double track rail line, a Dhaka City Circular rail, a Junction in Bhanga, a Faridpur-Payra rail line via Barishal, and a broad gauge line between Navaron and Munshiganj.
According to the finance minister, these measures were part of the overall development in the rail sector under a 30-year 'Railways Masterplan (2016- 2045)' at a cost of Tk. 5,53,662 crore.
The budget allocated funds for 35 rail projects. Of them, the four foreign funded projects bagged Tk 8947 crore with highest share in the Padma rail bridge.
The Padma rail project was introduced in 2016 and so far less than one third of its allocation has been spent, with equal physical progress of the project. Project spending was very insignificant compared to allocation in the outgoing fiscal year.
The Bangabandhu rail will cost Tk 16,780 crore, and so far very little allocation has been spent for the project.
The Dohazari-Cox's Bazar-Gundum rail line construction project started in 2010. From the beginning, the project has suffered some complications in land acquisition. The physical progress of the project was 40 percent until May, said Project Director Md Mofizur Rahman.
The India funded Khulna-Mongla rail scheme also started in 2010 ─ but it underwent long delays due to bureaucratic bottlenecks in both India and Bangladesh.
The finance minister yesterday noted that construction of 900 km dual gauge double track and 1, 581 km new rail track, refurbishment of 1, 527 km rail track and 100 passenger coaches, procurement of 31 locomotives, and improvement of the signaling system in 222 stations will be done in the next fiscal year.
Former secretary Asif-uz-Zaman welcomed the move to put emphasis on foreign funded projects. If spending is low, the disbursement will decrease and commitment fee and interest will increase, he observed. As a result the debt liability will increase.
"Like the Khulna-Mongla railway line, the Padma rail link is also an income generating project. The faster we get out to finish the implementation, the faster the income grows. And also we will contribute to our economic growth," he said, adding that in the pandemic situation, we should prioritise the project.
Former member of the Planning Commission Arasto Khan observed that due to the situation, it was natural to expect a lot of emphasis on the health sector. "It is natural for the government to reduce spending in some projects. People must be protected. It's necessary to pump in money through fiscal policy and subsidy. The revenue will also decrease. Therefore, the projects that must be given allocation- got more allocations."