Construction of the much anticipated metro rail looks uncertain as the government might bring another modification in its alignment in the face of the air force's objection to the current alignment running across Bijoy Sarani.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), keen to provide 80 percent of the $1.8 billion project cost as a soft loan, hinted to the communications ministry in February that it might not even give the fund if the alignment is modified again, said the ministry sources.
Jica already accepted a modification earlier, after it had completed feasibility study on a proposed alignment, and told the government that it will not accept further modification.
Although experts told top air force officials that the current elevated alignment across Bijoy Sarani will not hamper air traffic to and from Tejgaon Old Airport close by, air force officials do not agree with them. The airport is currently used by the air force and army aviation.
The air force has been pressing to move the current alignment to Khamar Bari from the Bijoy Sarani-Crescent Lake crossing, saying if the metro rail runs across Bijoy Sarani, it will cause serious problems in emergencies or war situations.
Experts earlier carried out an extensive study on the current route alignment and put it in the 20-year-long Strategic Transport Plan for Dhaka city. Cabinet approved the alignment on March 8 this year.
According to the original plan of the government, construction of the metro rail also known as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)-6 was supposed to start this year and be completed in three years.
Under the circumstances, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sat for a meeting with experts, ministers, and air force officials at the cabinet division of Bangladesh Secretariat yesterday to find a solution.
Dr SM Saleuddin, additional executive director of Dhaka Transport Coordination Board, gave a presentation on the current route. Prof Shamsul Hoque of the civil engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology gave another presentation on the route's Bijoy Sarani point.
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain, and Air Marshal Shah Mohammad Ziaur Rahman discussed the problem.
"We could not resolve the problem today, but will sit again tomorrow for a solution," Prof Jamilur told The Daily Star after the meeting.
Jica representatives have been invited to today's meeting for persuading them to accept another modification, if that becomes necessary.
Prof Jamilur also said Japan might not accept further change in the alignment, and that might put the metro rail construction in an uncertainty.
Meeting sources said the prime minister hinted that she looks at the air force's demand as a minor modification, and might not have any objection to it. She wants to keep Tejgaon Old Airport operational, they added.
The metro rail to be constructed from Uttara Third Phase to Sayedabad is crucial, as it will transport around 60,000 passengers in an hour during peak time from one corner of the capital to the other, says the Jica study.
It was the government who first delayed the progress of the project by modifying the alignment on February 1 this year for its conflict with Gulistan-Jatrabari flyover.
According to that modification the metro rail route from Uttara Third Phase to Teachers Students Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University via Pallabi, Farmgate, and Sonargaon Hotel will remain unchanged. But from TSC, the route will be diverted towards Curzon Hall, National Press Club, Bangladesh Bank, up to Kamalapur Railway Station.
The route from TSC was supposed to touch Central Shaheed Minar, Fulbaria, Gulistan, and Tikatuli before reaching Sayedabad in the original plan.
Jica expressed disappointment over the last modification as well, since every alignment modification requires new feasibility study on the new section.
JICA GIVES DEADLINE
A Jica delegation meeting Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain in his office yesterday asked him to give the final decision about the route within this month.
"We will take a decision after learning about the government's position on the alignment," one member of the delegation said, requesting anonymity.
He said Jica will be very disappointed if the government brings further modification in the alignment.
Jica Director Tomohide Ichiguchi, who led the four-member delegation, said his country will be able to provide the fund by January next year if Bangladesh clarifies its position within a month.
The communications minister said the metro rail project will be delayed if the alignment is modified again. "The loan sanction process of Jica will also be delayed by one year," he added.