Why such high costs for Bhanga-Benapole four-lane highway?

Developing communication infrastructure is essential for economic progress. But if the interests of vested quarters are given priority over the benefits of the people in the development process, it becomes very unfortunate.

The cost of road construction in Bangladesh is higher than any other country in the world. Whatever reason the government or authorities state to be behind it, does not seem credible. According to the World Bank survey in 2017, the cost per kilometre of roads in India is 1.1 million to 1.3 million dollars or (exchange rate roughly at Tk 100) Tk 110 million to Tk 130 million. On the other hand, China spends 1.3 million to 1.6 million dollars or Tk 130 million to Tk 160 million.

According to the Roads and Highways Department (RHD), a four-lane highway project financed by development partners typically costs between Tk 180 million and Tk 340 million per kilometer. The cost of upgrading the 192 km long Dhaka-Chittagong highway to four lanes is estimated at Tk 210 million per km. The same expenditure has been incurred on the Joydebpur-Mymensingh four-lane project. Jatrabari-Kanchpur eight lane project has cost Tk 220 million per kilometer. Rangpur-Hatikumrul four lanes have cost Tk 550 crore. A four-lane road from Sylhet to Tamabil will cost Tk 640 million. The four-lane Dhaka-Sylhet highway built according to the 2018 rates schedule is costing Tk 820 million.

According to Prothom Alo, the RHD this time has broken all previous records and spent Tk 1.4 billion per kilometer. The cost of making the 129 km two-lane road of Bhanga-Benapol route four-lane has been estimated at Tk 180.77 billion. The Planning Commission itself has raised questioned over acquiring 967 acres of land for a four-lane highway.

The project will be implemented with funding from India, so there is no justification for spending Tk 1.33 billion on experts from there. However, the most unusual sector in this proposal is shown for building makeshift accommodations at Tk 1.84 billion for engineers and experts in the project area. What could be the possible justification for constructing temporary buildings with so much money when there are RHD offices and bungalows in every area!

After the acquisition and requisition act, 2017 was passed, before any big project of constructing highway is adopted many influential people buy land at a low price. Bhanga-Benapole highway project faced the similar experience. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the cost of the project has been shown to be high to favour local influential people and politicians (all of whom belong to the ruling party) ahead of the upcoming national elections. According to the law, the compensation should be three times the market value. Taking advantage of this, influential people start buying land in the project area and sell it at several times higher price after the project is passed. Not just highways, such trading took place in acquisition of lands for Chandpur University.

The proposal is scheduled to be discussed in the cabinet committee meeting. We think it should be assessed by experts and not just a cabinet committee. No one has the right to misappropriate people's tax money in the name of development.