An over 50-per cent cost hike in Dhaka's metro-rail project has been proposed principally for land acquisition to set up kiosks at stations, not for people's comfort ride anyway.
Sources say this business-facilitation work, involving a king's ransom as additional project cost, is being done now for not carrying it out as works related to the same project.
Transport experts and critics blame the huge cost escalation at the end of its implementation stage on lack of engagement of experienced and knowledgeable people in the first-ever high- tech mass-transit-system development. For this lacking, many basic needs were not assessed properly and in time.
The sources say though huge private land and buildings will be acquired at various points along the 21.26-kilometre elevated transport corridor, riders on the Mass Rapid Transit Line 6 (MRT 6) will have to wait several years to get wider footpaths at different stations, station plazas and ToD (transit oriented development) planned to ensure comfortable exit from and entry to the MRT.
Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) has submitted a proposal to acquire huge land and private buildings to establish plazas at four stations, transit-oriented development (ToD) and footpaths widening of various stations along with extension of MRT 6 towards Kamalapur from Motijheel.
All these proposals come when progress on the project was recorded nearly 75 per cent and DMTCL is working for its early commissioning of half of the route by December this year and the rest next year.
With the proposed hike, the Tk 219.85 billion MRT-6 project cost is expected to shoot up to Tk 334.72 billion.
Sources said the state-owned MRT company placed a need for extra Tk 114.87 billion in its revised development project proposal (DPP) showing grounds of providing facilities and services for comfortable MRT ridership and sustainability of MRT's costly operations.
According to a rough estimation, nearly Tk 10 billion has been shown as cost of constructing the extension part of the MRT line 6 from Motijheel to Kamalapur while Tk 90 billion proposed to acquire land and buildings which are mostly private-owned. Another sum of Tk 10 billion is proposed to pay CD VAT and variation in the project consultants.
A new contract package is also proposed to introduce enterprise resource management (ERM) which, sources say, is planned to maintain the MRT 6's all assets, control, operate trains keeping record electronically. MRT is being built under eight contract packages, and the ERM will be CP 9 costing Tk 800 million.
Though DMTCL officials claim there is no hike proposed in the civil works, the extension work has been planned to carry out under the existing civil-work package showing variations.
Asked about delayed assessment, DMTCL Managing Director MAN Siddique said real need for the land might not have been felt by the people engaged with the project at the time of formulating the DPP.
''The DPP of MRT 6 was the first of its kind, also first experience for all project officials. Maybe, people engaged in the DPP formulation might not have realised the need for station plazas or required space for footpath to make sure comfortable exit and entry from a station," he told the FE over phone.
The MD, who joined the state-owned MRT company after retirement as secretary of Road Transport and Highways Division in 2017, however, said DMTCL is now trying to make the MRT 6 international-standard.
But sources say the feasibility study done in 2012-2013 had recommendations for station plazas, ToD and smooth exit and entry but those were not addressed in the DPP. It was due to lack of understanding of the concept of station plaza or ToD.
Some former project officials are, however, critical of the policy of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the project's financier, as land-acquisition proposal was against its board-approval policy.
Nevertheless, transport-expert Prof Mohammad Shamsul Hoque blames "faulty development philosophy" being maintained by the government agencies in planning and implementing development projects. He says project officials lacking in skill or experience often cause cost- and time-overrun.
"MRT is no exception," he adds.
"What works were needed to do at the upfront are now being tried to be done at this stage, which means lack of knowledge, experience and vision by the people engaged in the projects," he says.
Being a new and highly technical project, says Dr Shamsul Hoque, who is a professor of Civil Engineering Department of BUET, initial lapses could have been avoided by following practices in other Asian countries, including in hiring skilled and experienced people in key posts.
MoRTB took the initiative to develop the metro rails in the city under the 20-year strategic transport plan which proposed three MRTs in 2005. Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) completed the feasibility study finding the first line from Pallabi to Saidabad in elevated way viable.
However, the route later was changed on both sides due to objection from different quarters, including Bangladesh Army and Air Force, on various grounds. Saidabad point was diverted towards Motijheel after the government allowed Mayor Hanif flyover though JICA's study recommended setting up multimodal transport hub there. The Pallabi end was extended toward Uttara 3rd phase while route from Agargaon diverted towards Khamarbari instead of Bijoy Sarani.
Official sources say initial MRT 6 challenges have been overcome after lots of struggle as many authorities were then in double about execution of the metro-rail project.
They also say business model for the MRT 6 was also not considered as JICA would not provide financial support to any commercial cause in the project. In the proposed increase in the cost, JICA's part of contribution is likely to increase by Tk 20 billion, mainly to carry extension of the MRT 6.
After lots of discussion, the project officials finally adopted business model to increase income from sustainability point of view of the costly MRT project.
The ToD is planned at Uttara South station, four station plazas at Uttara North, Agargaon, Farmgate and Kamalapur. General consultant of the project is likely to develop the concept station plazas and ToD which is to keep open spaces for pickup and drop with different facilities.