In the first week of the month, officials belonging to the Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Department (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning conducted a visit to the Matarbari Coal Power Plant in Cox’s Bazar, which is currently under construction. In order to gather comprehensive insights into the project, the officials employed the use of a drone.
One significant aspect of the Matarbari power plant project involves the construction of a 75-foot-tall chimney. Given that it is not practical for IMED officials to scale the chimney for the purpose of assessing the quality of the work, a drone was employed. The drone was strategically placed at the mouth of the chimney, allowing for the capture of detailed imagery and video footage of the construction work. Additionally, the drone was maneuvered around the chimney to obtain a broader perspective of the site, with pictures and video footage being taken throughout the inspection process.
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The Matarbari power plant utilizes three sheds for storing raw materials, two of which have already been completed, while the construction of the third one is currently underway. IMED officials have employed drone technology to observe the progress of construction, as well as measure the land acquired in the project area, to ensure whether it matches the calculations in the project document or not. Thus, the Matarbari project is being monitored comprehensively with the help of drones.
Drones as oversight tool
IMED has initiated the process of obtaining the necessary approvals from various government departments, including the Civil Aviation Authority (BABICHAK) and Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), to fly drones, which can be an expensive undertaking. Permission from the aforementioned departments is required if the weight of the drone is over 5 kg.
IMED aims to procure drones with lidar technology, as, with this technology, drones can also measure underwater depths from the sky. This feature will prove beneficial for the inspection of river mining projects, as contractors have been known to not dig the riverbed as deep as required. Furthermore, depth measurements cannot be taken while underwater, making lidar technology drones an excellent choice for the job. Additionally, IMED is planning to acquire geo-mapping technology drones to ensure whether the land acquisition of the project area has been done as per the regulation or not.
According to IMED secretary Abul Kashem Md Mohiuddin, these drones will be used in other mega projects as well, like the Padma Bridge, if necessary. As visiting everything with an open eye is not always possible, drones can be useful tools for us in this case.
Effectiveness depends on the efficient use of the drones
According to Ministry of Planning sources, IMED officials have become more interested in the regular use of drones to monitor project work after ‘lying’ and ‘theft’ in road construction were caught. As part of their experimental approach to monitoring various projects, three DJI brand Phantom and Mevic drones have already been purchased in May 2022. The price of each is about three lakh rupees. In this regard, the training of the concerned officials started last September. So far 25-26 officers have been trained in phases.
However, Salim Raihan, Executive Director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), has expressed his support for the use of technology in project inspection. Raihan has noted that IMED’s project inspection activities have been the subject of constant questioning due to inadequate inspection and evaluation. It is important to note that technology alone cannot conduct project inspections; officials must know how to effectively manage the technology. It remains to be seen how much they can do for project inspection and evaluation without stress and influence using drones.
Due to the presence of several critical buildings, such as the old airport, the National Parliament, and the Prime Minister’s residence around the area of the Ministry of Planning, it is not feasible to conduct training there. As a result, training sessions are conducted in alternate locations, such as Purbachal or Munshiganj.
False claims get caught
During another recent site visit to a river erosion prevention project in a district in the western part of the country, IMED officials were informed that a 13-kilometer embankment was under construction, with four kilometres already completed. However, the contractor mentioned that the area in front of the embankment had muddy water, making it inaccessible by car or foot.
Upon hearing this from the contractor, IMED officials instantly decided to employ the use of drone technology to verify the claims. After flying the drone for a distance of one and a half kilometres, it was discovered that only one and a half kilometres of road had been built, as opposed to the previously claimed four kilometres. Although the contractor was caught ‘lying’ and ‘theft’ about the project work by drone, he said, however, the nearby residents have taken away the soil. But the IMED officials were not satisfied with his reply. They recommended that the project manager take action against the said contractor.