Chinese proposal for CTG: Metro rail in return for stake in a ‘smart city’
A Chinese company has proposed building a metro rail line in Chattogram and reclaiming 60 square km of land from the sea to build a “smart city” in exchange for a share of the latter.
The smart city will be located between Patenga and Mirsharai, according to the proposal 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 project.
The proposal does not mention how the city 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 kind of questions. Such project should be rejected right away.”
On February 6, 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 (Koica) will provide Tk 51 crore in grants, he added.
While visiting Bangladesh in October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping 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, compelling the government to put the projects on hold.
Loan agreements have been signed for only eight projects and several projects have been cancelled over different issues.
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 regarding the initiative, according to documents that do not mention the names of the companies.
“Seaside Bay View Smart City” will have areas for modern business, residence, conference and exhibition, says the document placed before the parliamentary committee.
Building and operating a metro is costly and it is not possible to get back the investment by carrying passengers, it adds.
The CDA will provide land to the Chinese company so that the latter can recover the investment for the metro from earnings from the smart city, it said.
The project will create 20,000 employment opportunities and will 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, carrying 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 lands from the sea, he added.
Mosharraf said the Chinese company will share a part of the smart city with Bangladesh, and in exchange of the share the company will get, it will build the metro lines in Chattogram.
“It’s a very good proposal and Bangladesh will surely benefit. We as a land starved country will get a share of the land the company will reclaim.”
Mosharraf said, the standing committee has recommended in favour of the proposal and asked the respective ministry to send the proposal to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“I will write to the prime minister, requesting her to accept the proposal.”
He added it has yet to be decided which country would get what percentage of the land.
The document mentioned a Bangladeshi private partner, but CDA Chairman M Jahirul Alam Dovas said the Bangladeshi company has not been selected yet.
“We have just forwarded the proposal to the ministry and they will make a decision,” he told The Daily Star last night.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY?
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 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,” he said.