Officials blame Covid restrictions for the sluggish progress
The authorities of the 1320MW coal power plant in Rampal of Bagerhat, near the Sundarbans, may need more time to complete the project despite being given one additional year.
It was supposed to be completed by December last year, but the government was forced to extend the deadline till December this year as they failed to meet the deadline.
Yet, the progress of the "Maitree Super Thermal Power Project" was only 65% as of April.
The Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL) under the Power Division is constructing the Tk160 billion-plant with some 7,000 staff members, of whom 2,200 are Indian nationals.
The BIFPCL had signed the engineering, procurement, and construction contract with the Indian Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in July 2016 for completing the 2X660MW power plant within 41 months or by December 2020. In 2017, the BIFPCL got a loan of $1.6 billion (Tk136 billion) from the Indian Exim Bank.
The construction of the coal power plant started in April 2017, amid a huge outcry at home and abroad by environmentalists, who expressed concerns over the long-term impact of the plan on the biodiversity and ecology of the mangrove forest.
As per the revised deadline, the project was supposed to achieve 80% progress by April this year and finish the work by December, in line with the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence.
Officials involved with the project, seeking anonymity, said that they might be able to complete the job by next year.
Project Director Md Rezaul Karim, said: “The Covid-19 spike in India since April is the main reason behind the project delay as several experts and engineers are stuck in India who are supposed to deal with some specialized components of the project work.
“We employed need-based staff and workers from India. The travel ban in Bangladesh and India for the Covid surge is hampering the construction work.”
As India reels under the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country recorded a fresh spike of 208,921 cases, according to the data updated by the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday.
On the other hand, Bangladesh imposed a stricter lockdown last month due to the spike in the number of infections and fatalities.
According to the project director, with the commissioning of the 400KV transmission system by June next year, the second unit of the plant could be commissioned by December next year.
Power Division Additional Secretary Nurul Alam said that as per the revised schedule, the power plant would start partial operation in the first quarter of 2022.
Asked about the setback, Nurul Alam, who is also a BIFPCL board member, said: “Initially, the project had to face a lot of environmental issues. Last year, the expiration of visas of some 1,700 Indian staffers and workers interrupted the work progress. Currently, the Covid-19 outbreak is forcing us to slow down the construction work.”
In 2016, a Unesco report said that hot water and chemicals to be discharged into water bodies from the coal power plant would cause significant damage to the aquatic life in the river and canal networks of the Sundarbans.
However, Nurul Alam said: “We will use standard quality coal [of 5700 caloric value] likely to be imported from Australia or Indonesia. On the other hand, modern technology has been adopted in this plant to ensure high efficiency and less coal consumption.”