A Chinese company has proposed building a metro rail line in Chattogram and reclaiming land from the sea to build a 60-square km “smart city” in exchange for a share of the latter.
The smart city will be located between Patenga and Mirsharai, according to a document placed before the parliamentary standing committee on housing and public works ministry.
The JS body at a meeting at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban recommended that the proposal be placed before the prime minister.
The proposed metro will be 20km, connecting the Chattogram train station and the airport at a cost of $2.2 billion. The company will bear the entire cost, including the feasibility study needed for the metro.
The proposal mentions that a Bangladeshi company will be a partner of the projects. But it does not say how the reclaimed land will be shared, how the proceeds will be divided, and the name of the Chinese company.
The authorities want to get the discussions and signing of a treaty done by May 2023, a complete financial closure by December 2023 and physical work by 2027.
However, commentators were wary of such proposals.
Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University said, “If there is a provision for another country or a company to control a certain area of our country, we should be asking bigger and different questions. Such project should be rejected right away.”
WHAT IS IN THE NEW PROPOSAL?
Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) on January 3 signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Chinese company and a Bangladeshi company, according to the document placed before the parliamentary committee. It does not mention the names of the companies.
“Seaside Bay View Smart City” will have areas for modern business, residence, conference and exhibition, it says.
Building and operating a metro is costly and it is not possible to recover the investment from commuters, it adds.
The CDA will provide land to the Chinese company so that the latter can recover the investment for the metro through its earnings from the smart city.
The project will create 20,000 jobs and raise the GDP by 1.1 to 3 percent. People of 180skm will benefit from the smart city, it added.
According to the document, the 20km metro will have an elevated and an underground section. It will carry up to 25,000 commuters every hour.
Mosharraf Hossain, chief of the parliamentary watchdog and a ruling party lawmaker from Chattogram-1, said the standing committee found the proposal useful for Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has long been thinking about reclaiming land from the sea, he added.
Mosharraf said the Chinese firm will reclaim the land, build the smart city on it, and build the metro. In exchange, Bangladesh will give it a part of the land.
“It’s a very good proposal and Bangladesh will surely benefit.”
Mosharraf said the standing committee has recommended in favour of the proposal and asked the ministry concerned to send the proposal to the prime minister.
“I will write to the prime minister, requesting her to accept the proposal.”
The Chinese firm will reclaim the land, build the smart city on it, and build the metro. in
He added it is yet to be decided which country would get what percentage of the land.
CDA Chairman M Jahirul Alam Dovas said the Bangladeshi company has not been selected yet.
“We just forwarded the proposal to the ministry for its decision,”
Prof Anu Muhammad said whenever there is a proposal for a public-private partnership project, people only hear good things about it.
“But the general public face problems later and they suffer. People do not have access to the documents of those projects and do not know the facts,” he said.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, “Taking control of our land, permanently or on lease, cannot be a good thing for us. It is a matter of land ownership and sovereignty of the country.
“Reclaiming land and making a satellite city is in their business interest, not ours. It is also necessary to check whether the project will be aligned with our own development plans. Also, the past work experience of the Chinese company should be checked beforehand.
“The metro project raises the question of land acquisition and our own development plans for the area. I am not saying we will not reclaim land to build a satellite city. But if there is a question of control over land by a foreign company, it must be scrutinised twice.”
The development comes two weeks after Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said the government will begin a feasibility study for a metro in Chattogram with South Korea grants.
A long-term and comprehensive transport masterplan for the port city will be prepared under a Tk 77 crore project, of which Korea International Cooperation Agency will provide Tk 51 crore in grants, he said on February 6.
While visiting Bangladesh in October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping had pledged $20 billion in soft loans. At least 27 projects were earmarked for implementation with the $20 billion, but getting the funds from China has been a lengthy process It compelled the government to put some of the projects on hold.