June 25, 2022, will carry a different significance in the history of Bangladesh from time immemorial. The Padma Bridge was inaugurated on this day. On the one hand, this Bridge will connect the south-western districts of the country with Dhaka and other regions; in the same way, it will be cherished on the face of the earth as a symbol of confidence. However, the history behind the construction of this Bridge was not pleasant. In fact, in 1999, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in collaboration with Japan, conducted a feasibility study and laid the foundation stone of the Padma Bridge at the Mawa-Jajira end on July 4, 2001. However, that decision changed with the change of power.
The Padma Bridge was one of the few issues that the Hon'ble Prime Minister paid greater importance to while implementing the charter of change after coming to power in the 2008 elections. The cost of the Padma Bridge was estimated at US$ 300 crore in 2011, of which the World Bank wanted to lend 120 crore. After the plans were completed and the Bridge's construction was about to commence, the World Bank filed allegations against several key government figures alleging corruption. Although they could not present any documents supporting their claims, they pressured the government and the then Anti-Corruption Commission to take action against those individuals showing a few pages of the diary.
Due to Sheikh Hasina's determination, they could not force the government to accept the allegations at that time and withdrew them from financing the Padma Bridge. A Canadian court later dismissed the World Bank's complaint saying "trash" or "rubbish." The World Bank was embarrassed and questioned after the ruling.
When the World Bank withdrew from financing the Padma Bridge, the head of state of a country like Bangladesh couldn't decide to build the Bridge with internal funds. Because in an economy like Bangladesh, spending US$ 300 crore is not an easy task. At that time, the person who firmly announced the government's decision to construct the Padma Bridge with internal funds was the Hon'ble Prime Minister-Sheikh Hasina. When Sheikh Hasina decided to build the Bridge with her funds, several high-profile personalities criticised her decision. Even many in the ruling party could not believe that Bangladesh could complete such an event.
At that time, Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, a renowned teacher, engineer and educator, stood firmly beside the Hon'ble Prime Minister and made it clear that no matter how difficult the task, it is possible to build a bridge over the fast-flowing Padma. He took over as an expert member of the bridge planning committee. Under his leadership, a Bangladesh engineer team monitored all the Padma Bridge's technicalities. Although the Padma Bridge has been inaugurated, Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury is no more today. As long as the Bridge over the river Padma stands, the nation will remember his contribution with respect.
Along with the construction of the Bridge, the capacity of the Bangladesh government and the ability of the Bangladesh engineers have been appreciated in the international arena. The main reason is that the Padma is the second fast-flowing river after the Amazon. It was arduous to build a 6.15 km bridge across the Padma. As a result, the technical aspect was much more complicated than the bridge financing.
As citizens of Bangladesh, we are very proud to have achieved this. Outside of Bangladesh, Padma Bridge has been recognised as a critical installation in many world countries. Ambassadors of different countries stationed in Bangladesh are highly praising this achievement of the government. Even the Prime Minister of Pakistan greeted the Hon'ble Prime Minister by sending a letter.
The Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh commended the construction of the Padma Bridge and hoped to join hands with the Government of Bangladesh in another such development project. Such recognition by the Japanese government proves that Bangladesh is now not only standing on a solid economic footing but also that Bangladesh's capacity to implement development plans has multiplied. And this is why those who once called Bangladesh a bottomless basket are parsing the country's development.
However, critics who are jealous of Sheikh Hasina's success have been spreading propaganda about the Padma Bridge. Attempts are being made to spread misinformation about the cost of the Padma Bridge. The people of Bangladesh must be aware of all these lies. As can be seen from the revenue and expenditure of the bridge department, the spending on the main Bridge has been 12 thousand 494 crore. Tk 30,193 crore has been spent on the entire project, including land acquisition.
Now the question is, why has the cost of the Padma bridge increased? There are many reasons for this. In the initial plan, the Bridge was one storey. Later, the Bridge's design was changed, and the railway was connected to the second floor. The length of the Bridge was initially estimated at 5.58 km, which was later increased to 6.15 km. In other words, the length of the water surface bridge increased by 0.57 km.
But some parts of the Bridge have a viaduct outside the water; it is not the connecting road but part of the Bridge. The length of the Bridge with the viaduct outside the water is 3.69 km. The length of the entire Bridge, including the water and outer part of the water, is 9.84 km. As the water level in the upper part of the central Bridge increased by 0.57 km, the length of the entire Bridge, including the outer part of the water, increased by more than 1 km.
The initial plan was to keep 3 of the 41 spans of the Bridge at a certain height for navigation. Later, the height of 41 spans was increased in the revised budget. The initial plan for land acquisition was 2,777 acres, which later turned into 6,655 acres. In other words, the amount of compensation for land acquisition in the public interest is tripled from two and a half to three times. The cost of relocating the ferry was not included in the initial plan, which was later included in the revised budget.
The initial plan did not include deploying Army security teams and procuring ships for security, which was later included in the revised budget. Due to domestic and foreign conspiracies, the implementation of the project was delayed, and as a result, the value of money against the dollar gradually increased from 68.65 to 84.80. Even during the Corona period, the bridge construction progress was somewhat hampered. The dollar exchange rate rose 24 per cent. The prices of various commodities in the international market also increased. BUET Professor.
The economic importance of the Padma Bridge is immense. This Bridge will open a new horizon of communication between Dhaka and other districts of Bangladesh and the south-western districts. The people living in the south of the country will be able to market their products in the mainland of Bangladesh in a short time. The Bridge will help create opportunities for a faster supply of raw materials produced in the region and increase production. Due to the Bridge, the country's second seaport, like Mongla Chittagong port, will be used properly.
Another critical point is that the Padma Bridge and the connecting road are part of the Asian Highway Route AH-1, which will create opportunities for proper use. This will bring a revolutionary change in the communication of South Asian countries, including the internal communication of Bangladesh. The southern part of the country will be connected to the Trans-Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway. It will be possible to establish direct links with India, Bhutan and Nepal and facilitate the transportation of passengers and goods. In addition to the country's overall GDP, completing the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project will increase the GDP by an additional 1.23 per cent. The GDP of the south-western will increase by 2.3 per cent.
The people cannot be misled by spreading lies about the Padma Bridge. The people of Bangladesh are now much more politically aware. They know what is good and what is wrong. They know that with the determination of the Hon'ble Prime Minister, Padma Bridge is a reality in Bangladesh today.
The decision to name the Bridge after the Padma River has shown the generosity of the Prime Minister. As long as there is Padma Bridge in Bangladesh, it will symbolise Sheikh Hasina's determination and Bangladesh's self-esteem. Hats off to Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor at the Department of Public Administration, the University of Rajshahi