Air force’s objection forces metro rail to change route; new proposal awaits PM’s approval; financier Jica yet to respond
In the face of pressure from Bangladesh Air Force, the government has decided to change the course of the much-talked-about metro rail, and take it through the parliament complex.
About 55 metres of land on the eastern side of the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban will be required for setting up of some pillars of the metro rail, which will seriously damage the aesthetic view of Louis I Kahn’s masterpiece, experts said.
The air force chief proposed the modification at a meeting with ministers, experts and officials of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).
The modification was finally accepted despite serious reservation and argument by experts and officials of the communications ministry, meeting sources said.
During the argument, air force chief Air Marshal Shah Mohammad Ziaur Rahman said lawmakers should consider the route along the parliament building. A secretary then said the air force did not consider the route through Bijoy Sarani, which is the most feasible course.
“There will be various legal complications if the route runs through the parliament complex,” the secretary argued.
But, referring to Hadith, the air force boss said, “Even a mosque can be demolished for the benefit of the people,” a meeting source quoted him.
The meeting was held at the secretariat following objection by the air force against the original route along Bijoy Sarani.
The force put forward three alternative routes, two through Mirpur Road and the other through Khamarbari, adjacent to the Jatiya Sangsad.
Seemingly unhappy, the Jica officials outright rejected the routes through Mirpur Road, but said they might accept the Khamarbari route on condition that there will not be any complaints from lawmakers and the Parliament Secretariat.
“We need a written approval of the Parliament Secretariat to use the land,” a meeting source quoted a Jica representative as saying.
The Jica official asked the government to give a final decision on the route within three to four days if Bangladesh wants Japan’s loan for the metro rail project. “Otherwise the loan will be delayed by a year.”
Jica, which has already accepted a route modification in February this year, is keen on providing 80 percent of the $1.8 billion project cost as soft loan.
“I’ll take the issue of route modification to the prime minister who will make the final decision tomorrow [today],” Finance Minister AMA Muhith told reporters after the meeting.
“Of the three alternative routes, we more or less agreed on the Khamarbari one,” he said, admitting that original route was the moist suitable as it would not require demolishing any building on Bijoy Sarani.
The course modification will have an adverse impact on the parliament complex, experts and government officials fear.
“I don’t think the lawmakers or the Parliament Secretariat will allow using the land,” said an expert wishing anonymity.
If the route runs through Khamarbari, it will also clash with a ramp of the proposed Dhaka Elevated Expressway.
About using the parliament complex, Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury said, “A portion of the parliament garden will be taken by the modification. But we should think about the Kahn’s master plan.”
Although experts told top air force officials that the elevated rail lines on Bijoy Sarani will not hamper air traffic to and from Tejgaon Old Airport, air force officials did not yield.
The air force has been pressing to move the current route to Khamarbari 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 route on March 8 this year.
The metro rail to be constructed from Uttara Third Phase to Sayedabad is crucial, as it will move around 60,000 people across the capital in the rush hours, says the Jica study.
It was the government who first delayed the progress of the project by modifying the route on February 1 this year as it conflicted with Gulistan-Jatrabari flyover project.
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, Jatiya Press Club, Bangladesh Bank and to Kamalapur Railway Station.
The route from TSC was supposed to go past Central Shaheed Minar, Fulbaria, Gulistan, and Tikatuli before reaching Sayedabad in the original plan.
-With The Daily Star input