China’s about-turn throws Bangladesh railway projects into jeopardy

Two major railway expansion projects in Bangladesh being implemented with Chinese assistance have become uncertain following disputes over feasibility study and contract prices

Jun 10, 2021
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Bangladesh railway projects

Two major railway expansion projects in Bangladesh being implemented with Chinese assistance have become uncertain following disputes over feasibility study and contract prices.

Bangladesh Railway officials have indicated that China’s objection to one of the projects could be linked to its tussle for one-upmanship with India and Japan.

The Chinese government, through its embassy in Dhaka, said it would not fund the Joydebpur-Ishwardi double-line project for a "lack of in-depth preliminary work and insufficient feasibility study".

Meanwhile, the Chinese contractors for this project and the Akhaura-Sylhet dual gauge proposal informed Bangladesh Railway that they would opt out following the downward revision of contract prices by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

These two are among the projects for which Dhaka and Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) during Chinese President Xi Jinping's Dhaka visit in October 2016 for implementing those with Chinese assistance.

Both the projects were approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council more than two years ago. The Chinese contractors were selected through the direct procurement method without any competitive bidding.

The latest developments will result in further delay in the implementation of the two projects and prolong people's wait for better train services from the capital to the north-east and north-west regions, officials said.

The railway officials held a meeting on Wednesday to find out solutions regarding the two projects.

The meeting decided to send a letter to the Chinese authorities through the Economic Relations Division (ERD) for reviewing their decision regarding the Joydebpur-Ishwardi project, meeting sources told The Daily Star.

Besides, the railway officials will apprise the PMO of all issues relating to the Akhaura-Sylhet project in writing and seek its directive.

Several BR officials told The Daily Star China's refusal to give the loan for Joydebpur-Ishwardi double-line project might have something to do with geopolitics.

Bangladesh's rail communication, especially the operation of freight trains with India, will get a boost once the double-line project is completed.

Besides, the Bangabandhu railway bridge project, which would link portions of the rail line, is being implemented with Japanese funds, and this project is being highlighted more than the rail line project.

"In this situation, China may lose interest in financing the project," a top railway official said seeking anonymity.

The government took up a project in November 2016 to turn the 174-km Joydebpur-Ishwardi section into a dual-gauge double line. The deadline for completing the project is December 2024.

Bangladesh Railways then completed negotiations with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation for implementing the project.

The BR in March 2019 sent a loan application for the project to the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka through the ERD and gave reminders for the loan seven times over the last two years.

(SAM)

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