Russia has urged Bangladesh to pay the interest on the loan for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. Payments of debts have been stalled since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The government has not been able to pay the interest due to the ongoing dollar crisis and western sanction on Russia. The bills of the contractors have also been stuck for the same reason.

In the circumstances, the construction of the biggest infrastructural construction of the country has slowed down. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has sent back a vessel carrying cargo for the Rooppur power plant as the vessel was under US sanction. However, that ship unloaded the product at the Haldia port in India.

Now, there is also uncertainty over the completion of the project on time due to the slow pace of the project. Therefore, the government has started thinking about extending the duration of the project.

In such circumstances, Yeafesh Osman has called a meeting at the secretariat on Thursday to decide about the next step. The Economic Relations Department (ERD), officials of the project director and other relevant officials have been asked to be present at the meeting. According to ERD sources, in the meeting, there could be discussions of asking for an additional time of one to two years to pay the interest on the loan provided by Russia for the construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. Besides, there will be discussions on extending the project duration in the meeting as well.

Asked about this, Yeafesh Osman told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, “We will hold an internal meeting on issues related to Rooppur. That is not your lookout. We will discuss various issues, including repaying the loan on the Rooppur power plant. However, these issues are technical.”

Earlier, on Tuesday, the science and technology minister went to Bangladesh Bank (BB) and held a meeting with BB governor Abdur Rauf Talukder there. Director of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project Shawkat Akbar and divisional head of the project Alok Chakrabarty were present at the meeting. The agenda of the meeting was finding a way to repay the loan from Russia.

Agenda of the meeting

According to the information from the science and technology ministry, mainly two issues will be discussed in the meeting. First, asking for additional time to repay the $500 million in the first instalment. Second, reviewing the financial agreement with Russia.

The government signed loan agreements with Russia in two phases for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with a capacity of 2400 MW. The first loan agreement was signed in 2013 for 500 million dollars. The government has spent that money for detailed surveys and preliminary works of the project. The repayment of the interest of that loan started from 2018.

The other loan agreement was signed in 2016 for the construction of the main power plant. Bangladesh took a loan of $11.38 billion for the implementation of the project. The instalment of this loan will start from 2027.

Although the government started repaying the interest of the loan taken in the first phase, it stopped after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war due to the dollar crisis in the country and western sanctions on Russia.

Later in June last year, Russia proposed paying the instalment in rubles. However, the government rejected that proposal.

Since then, Russia has been issuing letters putting pressure on Bangladesh to repay the loan. This issue will be discussed in the meeting to be held today, Thursday. ERD will make a proposal asking Russia to give additional time of one to two years for the repayment of the loan. Besides, there will also be discussions on the process of returning the loan.

Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding this, ERD additional secretary Uttam Kumar Karmakar said, “We have informed them that it is not possible for us to repay the loan in rubles. We have instructions against talking to the media in this regard.”

There is another issue in the agenda of today’s meeting – reviewing the loan agreement of 1.38 billion dollars with Russia. The two countries may hold discussions over the loan agreement again regarding the commitment fee, number of instalments and process of returning the money.

Alok Chakraborty, the divisional head of the project, “The Russians are working at the project site. However, we are not able to repay the loan due to the sanctions. We will discuss what we should do in this context.”

Minister furious with newspersons at workshop

Meanwhile, Yeafesh Osman got furious with newspersons for asking questions regarding the Rooppur power plant. The incident took place at the opening ceremony of the workshop on the Ministry of Science and Technology’s course of action in building Smart Bangladesh at the secretariat on Wednesday.

A newsperson at the workshop asked the minister about the possible delay in delivering the materials for the Rooppur power plant due to the US sanctions on Russia.

In response the minister said, “I won’t say anything regarding this. The issue of the Rooppur power plant is not relevant here.”

He also raised questions regarding the professionalism of the newspersons. He further said, “I won’t talk to you (the newspersons). I speak to your bosses and will talk to them instead. There is no benefit in talking to you.”

Asked about this, the minister told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, “I wanted to discuss relevant issues at the workshop.  However, the newspersons questioned me about the Rooppur power plant, which is not a professional approach. We all want to practice professionalism.