Tk 12 billion down the drain?

Md Arifuzzaman . Dhaka | Update:

Town border station of Gas Transmission Company Limited in Panchbaria, Jashore. Photo: Prothom AloFour different governments had spent Tk 12 billion to supply gas to the country’s south-western districts, including Khulna and Jashore, but to no avail. After 14 years, the project to supply gas to those places has now been abandoned.

The five districts are Kushtia, Jhenaidah, Jashore, Khulna and Bagerhat.

The government has spent the money on two projects - with a plan to supply large-scale industrial enterprises and houses.

A 165-kilometre-long gas transmission line was constructed at a cost of Tk 8.5 billion first. Then a distribution project worth Tk 6 billion was undertaken. Purchasing equipment for the distribution line and land acquiring cost Tk 3.5 billion, but the equipment are of no use now.

The Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources announced the completion of the project in 2016. There is not enough gas available in the source of the transmission line of Bheramara in Kushtia for distribution to the nearby districts.

However, an investigation committee of Petrobangla last year said that it would have been possible to supply gas to at least three districts if the distribution line was installed. Now the whole amount spent is wasted, they observed.

The government is not planning to supply gas to these districts for the time being, according to the committee.

"The government had promised to supply gas to the region. But due to lack of adequate gas, the once industrialised city Khulna could not see the hope, and the general people were disappointed," said Ashraf-uz Jaman, general secretary of greater Khulna Unnayan Sangram Samannay Committee.

The BNP-Jamaat alliance government took the project of transmission line in 2005. Khulna Metropolitan BNP president Nazrul Islam said supplying gas to at least the power plants and the industrial factories could have saved the dead industrial city.

The construction of the transmission line started during the army-backed caretaker government. M Tamim, who was energy adviser to the then chief adviser, said, "The government knew there was no gas in the plant when these two projects were planned. They should not have taken up such a big project. The pipeline was set up, the distribution tools were purchased, but there was no gas supply."

Asked whether he could do anything as the energy adviser to the government, M Tamim said, "The projects were taken up earlier. We could then force it to stop. But the projects were run on ADB's (Asian Development Bank) loan. It could have got setbacks if we did so."

The distribution programme was also funded by ADB loan. The Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) submitted a probe report on this in 2017. It said that despite the unavailability of gas in the pipeline and no survey on gas reserves proposed by the project, the ministry and the commission were 'misguided' with a proposal for an 'unrealistic' project. IMED ordered necessary steps against the people responsible and Petrobangla in April last year carried out an investigation to this end.

Petrobangla director (planning) Md Ayub Khan Chowdhury, who was the convenor of the probe committee, submitted a report in September last year while Petrobangla handed it to the energy minister in March this year.

Petrobangla's report showed the proposal was absolutely incompatible. Nonetheless, if the projects were implemented on priority basis in due course, at least three districts could have been provided with gas supply.

There was no return from the investment of Tk 3.5 billion. In contrast, the amount of interest for ADB's loan stood at Tk 850 million by the end of the last fiscal, according to the report.

The committee further said that the pipes and other tools purchased for distribution line were kept in open at three places in Khulna. Many tools went missing. The implementing agency Sunderban Gas Company Limited (SGCL) did not install pipelines on both sides of the Rupsa river, but it claimed to install pipeline under the river.

The investigation committee held responsible seven officials of the SGCL for the scam. They are the project coordinator Kamal Uddin (now retired), the then manager ASM Akbar Kabir (now general manager of BGDCL), project director SM Rezaul Islam (on Leave Preparatory to Retirement or LPR), deputy manager Kazi Anwarul Azim (now deputy general manager of LNG branch at the Compressed Natural Gas), manager Rana Zaki Hossain (now deputy general manager, BGDCL), assistant engineer Abu Bakar (now Petrobangla manager, LNG Branch) and assistant manager (purchase) Sheikh Mohammed Ezaz (now living in Australia).

Kazi Anwarul Azim told Prothom Alo, "We were asked by the Ministry of Energy to do the project. We just followed the order. I do not know much about it."

Meanwhile, Petrobangla investigated on the loss of Tk 3.5 billion in the distribution project. But there was no investigation about the transmission pipeline of Tk 8.5 billion.

Can the responsible people of these two projects face trial? State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid said, “We have received a report on the distribution project. Those who are involved will be brought to book. We will also investigate the construction of the transmission line."

Petrobangla said despite its insistence the distribution project was not modified. Hossain Mansur was chairman of Petrobangla when the project was underway. The board of directors, led by the professor of geology department at Dhaka University, passed the project proposal and sent it to the ministry.

“The question is how such a big project was taken when the availability of gas was uncertain,” Hossain Mansur told Prothom Alo.

SGCL was in charge of implementing the distribution project. The company’s managing director Mushtaq Ahmed said, “I’ve nothing to say about the Kushtia-Khulna gas distribution project.”

The state-owned Gas Transmission Company Limited (GTCL) implemented the transmission project.

The then project director and incumbent deputy manager of GTCL Md Abdur Razzak said, “The government approved the project. Our responsibility was to implement that. Gas could not be supplied due to its shortage. We’re not responsible for this.”

BNP leader AKM Mosharraf Hossain was the state minister for energy affairs when the government of the BNP-Jamaat-led alliance adopted the project. Prothom Alo could not talk to him as he is sick.

Implementation of the transmission line project started during the army-backed caretaker government and ended during the tenure of Awami League government in 2015. Earlier in 2009, the government formed by the AL approved the distribution project. Enamul Huq was the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources then.

Responding to a question about why the two projects were taken in spite of knowing that gas would not be supplied, Huq said, “I can’t say anything about that. Energy adviser Taufiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury used to make all the decisions.”

Despite repeated attempts on 10 April, Taufiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury did not pick up any phone call of this reporter. He neither answered to the SMS.

Former power division secretary Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan said, “The two projects were taken and nurtured as part of the country’s political culture of pledging to provide road, electricity and gas.”

“There’re issues like joblessness and closing of factories in former industrial town Khulna. These factors were also considered for taking up the two fruitless projects. The ADB also should have thought more before releasing loan for such a project. And, those who were involved in giving approval to it are also responsible.”

*The report, appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Shameem Reza

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