Two years into implementation, the 193km vital link between Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong has seen 30% of work completion. Yet we are now being told that the government has prioritised the highway expansion project and intends to complete it within a year. Going by newspaper reports, the Roads and Highways Department has completed 80% of the earth-filling work. Apparently, the project ran into a snag since present rules and regulations bar it from taking soil from agriculture lands. One wonders precisely why contingency planning was not done by our planners prior to embarking on such a crucial project. Whatever may be the case, earth-filling exercises remain unattended in certain sections of the highway, particularly Comilla and Daudkandi areas.
This lacklustre performance leaves much to be desired. Despite repeated assurances by the ministry of communication, allegations of illegal toll collection have been raised by contractors in some localities. Indeed, the cutting of hillocks for land by the contractors has run into troubled waters with a Comilla lawmaker despite the fact that the contractor had a permit to do so. Then of course there has been local resistance at various stages of the highway to the removal of physical structures like buildings and houses in certain areas which slowed down implementation. But then all these factors ought to have been taken into account and contingency plans laid out before embarking on the highly ambitious Tk.2,382 crore work.
There is of course no way to backtrack from the expansion work. The horrendous tailbacks on this highway result in thousands of vehicles stranded for hours every day. A five-hour journey between the capital city and Chittagong or vice-versa these days take nearly 15 hours. With nearly two years gone and 70% of the work still undone, it appears a miracle is needed to complete it within 2013. It is really up to the government to get its act together to move the project forward.