The Padma Bridge is the consequence of Sheikh Hasina’s strong determination who escaped the horrible massacre at road no 32 on August 15, 1975 and got back to her country in 1981 after staying six years in exile in India. The day she returned the people of Bangladesh gave her a grand reception. About 10 lacs people gathered at the airport as if the Father of the Nation did come back. That was a period when killers had been ruling the country. She struggled against them and after long 21 years people voted her party to power. She fought and fought bravely against all the odds and proved that she is the best competent leader to rule the country. Who is the great and grand lady? She is Sheikh Hasina, the most beloved daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation. She had been in the management of the country for 18 years (from 1996-2001 and from 2009-2022), the glorious period of Bangladesh in the sense that the country and the nation has been taken to the peak. She has been ruling the country much more time than Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto. She would probably make a record of her governance if she survives the onslaught of her rivals. The lady who always thinks how she would make things better for her people should remain in power. She did think seriously about the economy of her country and felt the sorrows and sufferings of the people of South and South Western 21 districts. The mighty river Padma make them isolated from the North i.e., capital. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dreamt of constructing a bridge over the river Padma not only to improve the lot of the people and mitigate their sufferings, but also to establish greater connectivity i.e., connecting the region to Trans Asian road and railway connectivity. Different surveys conducted by international agencies predicted that the GDP would grow at least 1.23 percent and GDP of South-Western region would grow 2.3 percent. But I think the GDP would be bigger than projected by different international agencies.
Immediately after coming to power through an election held in 1996 she took initiative to build Padma Bridge over the river Padma aimed at fulfilling her dream. While she was visiting Japan in 1997, she referred to the visit of her great father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1973 who had sought financial assistance from Japan for constructing a bridge over the river Jamuna river. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also sought cooperation of the government of Japan to construct two bridges—one is over the river Rupsha and another one is over the river Padma. Later Sheikh Hasina laid foundation stone of Padma Bride on 4 July 2001 after conducting pre-feasibility study by JICA.
But, the move to construct Padma Bridge project was slowed down after the change over power through national election held in October 2001. The BNP-Jamaat government out of political vengeance refrained from taking speedy initiative to carry out the project work despite submission of the detailed survey by the JICA in 2004. The reasons were that JICA survey suggested construction of the Bridge over the river Padma at Mawa point. They did not pass the Development Project Proposal (DPP) of the bridge as foundation stone was laid down by Sheikh Hasina and JICA survey identified location of constructing the bridge at Mawa point.
Immediately after coming to power in December 2008 national election step was taken to expedite the move to construct Padma Bridge within 22 days after formation of government led by Sheikh Hasina. But unfortunately the huge prospective Padma Bridge project became victim of conspiracy of both national and international players. The World Bank wrote letter to the government time and again to give appointment of black listed as consultant. The committee headed by reputed Professor of BUET Jamilur Reza Chowdhury took stand against WB’s repeated persuasion to appoint the black listed company. Against this backdrop the WB brought allegation of corruption in 2011. The WB lodged allegation in the Candian Royal Mounted Police against Canadian SNC-Lavalin in this regard. Later they filed case in the Canadian court. In continuation to that the World Bank President Robert B Zoellick cancelled its $1.2 billion credit for Padma Bridge project with immediate effect, saying it has proof of corruption conspiracy involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and individuals. In another statement the Washington-based lender said, “the WB has credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC-Lavalin executives and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project… the WB cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption.” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took challenge regarding the WB allegation of corruption and asked them to prove it. She asked how WB could bring allegation of corruption at a time when they did not release a single farthing.
In fact, the move to cancel credit for Padma Bridge was not a decision of the WB alone. The national and international players were involved in it to label stigma of corruption on the forehead of Awami League government. The national and international players including a section of civil society, a Nobel Laureate machinated the design keeping the 2014 election in mind. Their ultimate goal was to give weapons of movement to BNP-Jamaat and defeat Awami League in the election. The Nobel Laureate does lobby with the high-ups of an influential state to scrap the loan. It may be mentioned here that this person and a section of the civil society were also involved in the conspiracy to minus Sheikh Hasina from politics during one-eleven period.
Despite all these odds the great and grand daughter of Sheikh Mujib, Sheik Hasina the Prime Minister of Bangladesh counteracted all the odds and successfully completed the Padma Bridge with her own resources. We’re really very proud of her.
Dr S A Malek is the President of Bangabandhu Parishad, Advisory Council member of Awami League, former Political Adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament and Columnist