The project estimates 3-time high budget
Md Rabiul Haque: Anomalous cost estimates have been found in a project to protect the banks of the Jamuna River. A huge amount of money has been charged for the consultant fee of the project, which is considered unnecessary by the stakeholders. At the same time, various unnecessary expenditure sectors have been kept. Even Groene construction is estimated to cost almost three times as much as other similar projects. Although the project is being taken as an experimental application of a new technology.
In this situation, many questions have been raised before the project work started. Due to which the Project Evaluation Committee (PEC) has recommended to stop or reduce various expenses. The term of the project titled ‘Jamuna River Sustainable Management Project-1 Riverbank Protection and Riverbank Training (Component-1) and Disaster Risk Financing (Component-3)’ has been fixed from January this year to December 2026.
The project will be implemented by the Ministry of Water Resources and the Financial Institutions Department of the Ministry of Finance. The total estimated cost is Tk 109.95 crore. Out of this, GOB (Government Fund) is Tk 213.58 crore. In addition, Tk 896.37 crore will be received for project support.
It is known that the cost estimate of the project has been estimated at Tk 39.10 crore for the construction of the village platform. In addition, the cost of protecting the platform with Jio Bag has been estimated at Tk 14.18 crore. However, neither of these two sectors have anything to do with the cost objective of the project. Tk 219 crore have been kept for consultant fees even though it is not required. Besides, the cost of construction of International River Research Institute in the project area is Tk 27.35 crore and Tk 4 crore for maintenance.
Several such unusual and disproportionate cost estimates have been questioned. The members of the PEC meeting held on this project have raised such questions. AKM Fazlul Haque, member of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Division of Planning Commission presided over the recently held PEC meeting. In the meeting, the supervising engineer of the Water Development Board highlighted the context of the project. Rabin Kumar Biswas.
It was informed in the meeting that in November 2019, Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) conducted the PDPP of a project with an expenditure of Tk 240 crore. Later, BWDB submitted it to the Ministry of Water Resources. The name of the project was ‘Sustainable Management of Brahmaputra-Jamuna River including Channelization and Riverbank Stabilization’.
Then in June 2020, the Department of Economic Relations wrote to the World Bank for financing this project. ADB was requested to finance the project the following month in July. However, as the project included a navigation component, the World Bank suggested the formation of a new PDPP in August of that year. The World Bank suggested the formation of PDPP by including the Ministry of Shipping at the project formulation and implementation stage.
In view of this, the decision of the Bangladesh Water Development Board was informed to the Ministry of Water Resources in October 2020. A meeting was held in the following month in November under the chairmanship of a member of the General Economics Department of the Planning Commission. In that meeting, ERD was given the responsibility of communicating with the development partners regarding the financing of the project, especially the completion of the survey.
Then in December 2020, a project formulation meeting was held under the chairmanship of the senior secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources. Later the consulting firm was appointed by the World Bank. In the light of their recommendations, the DPP of the Jamuna River Bank Protection Project has been formulated.
The head of agriculture, water resources and rural institutions department in the meeting. Syduzzaman said, Bangladesh Water Development Board has implemented numerous projects in Padma and Jamuna rivers using its own technology. Now it is said that the project will reduce the width of the river through the new technology Top Blocked Permeable Grown (TBPG). Without proper study, it is not clear how much such a pilot project needs to be implemented with loan money. He claimed that such technology has not been used anywhere in the world.
In the context of this statement, Additional Secretary SM Rezaul Mostafa Kamal, representative of the Ministry of Water Resources, said that 5 permeable gardens have been made on the Jamuna river in Gaibandhar’sKamarkhali. The results of permeable cultivation implemented in Jamuna River are satisfactory. As the width of river Jamuna is increasing every year, it is necessary to implement such technology to reduce it. Initially, the World Bank proposed to build GROEN at 3 locations.
Initially, the World Bank proposed to build GROEN at 3 locations. However, it has been proposed to reduce it by identifying the dangerous areas and constructing groynes at two dangerous places on both sides of the river. On the other hand, Deputy Head (Irrigation) of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Department. Samchul Islam said, in the pre-feasibility workshop of the project (component-1) held on September 23, 2021, Professor Dr. Ainun Nishat expressed his concern about the ‘multi-criteria analysis formulation’.
He opposed narrowing the river. According to him, TBPG construction is not suitable for this option. He opposed the idea of narrowing the river. He also said that the term of reference in the project study is flawed. For this study flood plains have to be considered.
Joint Head (Irrigation) of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Department. Enamul Haque said that the DPP states that no recirculating flow will be created at the proposed site for TBPG. However, it is proposed to use 5-layer geo bags in the river bed of TBPG construction site. It appears that Groen’s design was done without proper studies.
Meanwhile, although the cost of the project is not related to the objective, the cost of Village Platform Teri has been estimated at Tk 39.10 crore. Besides, the cost of protecting the platform with Jio Bag has been estimated at Tk 14.18 crore. Also, the cost of dredging has been estimated at Tk 126.86 crore. However, in the meeting, it was agreed to exclude these expenses.
The issue of project consultant fee came up in the discussion of the meeting. The cost for this has been estimated at Tk 219 crores, which is excessive. Out of this cost, the government will pay Tk 65 crore. The Planning and Design Wing of Bangladesh Water Development Board has its own 71 officers. Besides, Bapaubo has already implemented several similar projects in the Jamuna River. As a result, it appears that their officials have enough experience in such work.
For this reason, the members of the project planning meeting do not think that there is a need for more consultants to implement such projects. When asked about the reason for the allocation of Tk 65 crore for consultants in the GOB sector, the representative of Babaubo told the meeting that the amount was kept for the advance income tax (AIT) of consultants.
The finance department representative said that the cost of one kilometer of work in another similar project for the construction of groynes in Jamuna river is Tk 278.7 crore. However, an estimate of Tk 75.17 crore has been made for this project, which is not realistic. He said land acquisition was discouraged unless it was very necessary. At the same time, he proposed to exclude Tk 1.52 crore for the purchase of motor vehicle and Tk 80 lakh for the purchase of watercraft from this project.
In the meeting, Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Department Deputy Head (Irrigation) Md. Samchul Islam said that the proposed project will be implemented with foreign loans. However, the loan amount, interest rate, grace period and repayment period are not specified in the DPP. Economic Relations Department (ERD) Joint Secretary Muhammad Rezaul Karim said at the time that the proposed DPP will specify the loan amount, interest rate, grace period and repayment period.
Kabir Ahmed, Joint Head of Physical Infrastructure Department, said that in the proposed project, compensation of Tk 27.90 crore in premium subsidy sector and Tk 27.90 crore of compensation in protection fund sector have been kept. Tk 27.9 crore have been proposed for the appointment of consultants for the management of the two sectors, which is unreasonable.
He also said that the objectives of this project are to channelize all the rivers, experimental application of a new technology, if the technology is successful, to take up a bigger project later. For the purpose of the proposed project, the issues related to providing subsidy, providing protection fund and appointing consultants to the families located along the river banks are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Water Resources.
Ayesha Akhter, Director of Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department, said that the project has GOB component with foreign grants in the field of training and exposure visits abroad. Tk 56.92 crore have been allocated for the study of phase-2 of this project, which is more than the requirement.
Afroza Akhter Chowdhury, Deputy Head of Socio-Economic Infrastructure Department, said that the academic building and the International River Research Institute are not compatible with the purpose of this project. In the current economic context of the country, the construction of academic buildings and international river research institutes can be omitted.
Meanwhile, several decisions were taken through discussions in the PEC meeting. These include- Before constructing the TBPG, apart from the mathematical model, the physical model of the Jamuna river should be prepared and the physical model should be prepared. 126 crores to be deducted from project cost for proposed dredging at Groen construction site. Apart from this, it was decided to exclude Tk 53.29 crore from the project cost for construction of village platform and protection of platform with geo bag.
At the same time, it was decided to rationally reduce the proposed expenditure in the consultancy sector. Also, the consultancy costs should be limited within the grant money allocated under the project. Only AIT and VAT are payable from the GOB portion. Tk 31.35 crore from DPP for construction and maintenance of academic building, international river research institute should be deducted from the project cost.
Besides, Tk 2.32 crore should be deducted from the project for the purchase of motor vehicles and watercraft. Land acquisition should be avoided if not necessary. The GOB portion should be eliminated out of Tk 56 crore in the phase-II study of the project and the cost should be reduced to a reasonable level and the phase-II study should be done. The proposed project should specify the loan amount, interest rate, grace period and repayment period.
AKM Fazlul Haque, member of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Department of Planning Commission to talk about these issues. But he refused to talk about the project.
Supervising Engineer of the Water Development Board. Ravin Kumar Biswas, when contacted, also refused to talk about the project.
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