Long-cherished Padma Bridge Reaches Fulfilment – Hiren Pandit

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The Padma Bridge is a dream project of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a pioneer project of Bangladesh and also the dream of 160 million people of Bangladesh. This beautiful dream is almost near completion after years of trials and tribulations. After finalising the tender process, the bridge authority issued work orders to the main bridge, river management, supervision consultancy contractors and in December 2015, the Prime Minister inaugurated the construction of the bridge. The first span of the bridge was laid in the river in 2016 and the last span was installed on December 10, 2020.

Work of laying 2,918 concrete roadway slabs and 2,959 railway slabs on the span of the 6.15 km bridge have also been completed. Roadway carpeting is now underway. The actual progress of the main bridge is 95 per cent completed and the financial progress is 91.28 per cent. The actual progress of river management is six per cent and the financial progress is 7.36 per cent. The work of connecting the road and service area has already been completed at Mawa and Jazira ends, having 438 super tee girders and 64 railway eye girders. The road bridge is planned to be opened for traffic in June 2022 after the completion of carpeting, lighting and other ancillary works.

The Padma Bridge will be an aesthetic two-story bridge helping to communicate with 21 southern districts more easily. How considerably a country has developed can be easily seen by looking at the communication system of that country. An improved communication system will change the scenario by helping the country to move towards inclusive development. An integrated transport system is indispensable for enhanced communication leading to balanced socio-economic development within the country.

 

According to the economic impact analysis of the Padma Bridge, the construction of the bridge will facilitate communication, expansion of trade and commerce, establishment of small and medium enterprises in the south and adding to the country’s GDP growth by 1.2 per cent per year and the southern GDP growth by 2.5 per cent. The bridge will integrate the communication system within the country by the Mawa-Bhanga-Jashore-Khulna rail link from Dhaka. Khulna, Mongla, Barishal, Kuakata Economic Corridor will be established from Dhaka. The southern part of the country will be connected with the Trans-Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway. Direct communication with India, Bhutan, and Nepal will be established and transportation of passengers and goods will be facilitated.

Establishment of new economic zones and high-tech parks will attract domestic and foreign investment and industrialization of the country will be accelerated. The tourism industry will be greatly improved and new resorts and hotels, shopping malls, businesses, etc. will be set up in Mawa and Jazira. The ports of Mongla and Payra will be operational, which can be used by a few neighbouring countries. According to the 2010 estimate, traffic will be doubled where 12,000 vehicles may pass through the Padma Bridge daily, with vehicles increasing by 6-7 per cent every year. However, this number may increase manifold as before the construction of the Bangabandhu Jamuna Bridge, the traffic flow over the bridge far exceeded the estimate after 23 years. The economic impact has also been higher than expected. Toll collection from vehicles plying on the bridge is increasing day by day.

The bold decision to build the Padma Bridge with own funds has also brought about a positive change in the attitude of development partners and countries. Development partners, including the World Bank, realised that they have made a mistake in withdrawing from the Padma Bridge project. Now development partners are investing in mega projects in Bangladesh. Japan is providing loans for mega projects such as Metrorail, Matarbari deep seaport and power plants. The experience of implementing the Padma Bridge project has made the government, experts, and engineers confident in implementing megaprojects. Currently, 10-12 mega projects are running in the country the Padma Bridge project is the pioneer of it.

Padma Bridge, the bridge of pride, now visibly stands today. As a result of the construction of the Padma Bridge with own money, the economic potential and image of Bangladesh has been established worldwide. A bold decision by the Prime Minister has earned her international recognition as a self-confident, determined statesman. Bangladesh’s economic progress, continuous GDP growth, and improvement of Bangladesh’s position in various social indicators are recognised internationally today.

The prerequisite for the development of different regions of a state is to build an improved communication system for those regions. The 4.6 km long Bangabandhu Bridge constructed over the river Jamuna was completed in 1997. Due to easy communication between the eastern part of the country with the north and north-western parts of the country, the farmers, traders, industrialists began to reap the benefits of improved communication. The economy of the region gained momentum.

Then the plan was started to build a bridge over the Padma River to establish an uninterrupted road and rail link between the south and south-west of Bangladesh, including the capital, and the eastern part of the country. The feasibility study of the Padma Bridge was completed in 2005 with the assistance of the Japanese government. The Present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the bridge in Mawa on July 4, 2001, towards the end of the first term of her government. The Awami League government took steps to speed up the work of the Padma Bridge project after coming to power for a second term on January 8, 2009. This was declared as the highest priority project.

 

Monsell-Ecom, a US-New Zealand-Australia-based consulting firm, was hired as a design consultant. A loan agreement of 1,200 million was signed with the World Bank, 615 million with ADP, and 430 million with JICA to finance the project. Tenders and proposals for the construction of the main bridge infrastructure, river management and supervision consultancy were accepted at different times in 2010. A strong evaluation committee was formed under the leadership of Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury. During the tender evaluation, there were disagreements in some cases with the World Bank team, but they were resolved through discussions and correspondence. But during the evaluation of the supervisory consultancy, a vested interest quarter falsely made a complaint to the World Bank. The World Bank further accused that the Communications Minister had approached pre-qualified contractors to become the local agents. Despite Bangladesh persistently denying all the allegations, the outgoing President of the World Bank, Robert Zellick, canceled the loan agreement for the Padma Bridge on June 26, 2012.

In a cabinet meeting in July 2012, the Prime Minister decided that the government would build the Padma Bridge with its funds. Despite the reluctance of the Prime Minister, some ministers and advisers led by the finance minister took the initiative to bring the World Bank back to the Padma Bridge project. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave the World Bank till January 31, 2013, to return to the Padma Bridge project. But the World Bank did not change the decision on loan suspension and stalled the Padma Bridge project. Finally, the Prime Minister announced the construction of the Padma Bridge with own funds. After further investigation, in 2016, the Canadian Superior Court also dismissed the case based on “Baseless” information. Bangladesh is free from stigma. The Prime Minister’s “Challenge” won.

Today, Bangladesh is on the path of a developing country. Moreover, the Padma Bridge is not just a bridge, it is a symbol of our pride, self-esteem, self-identity, ability and above all the fruit of the conviction of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina. A writ petition has been filed at the High Court recently seeking the naming of the Padma Bridge of pride and superiority as “Sheikh Hasina Bridge”. Though repeated proposals have been raised in Parliament, outside Parliament, however every time the Prime Minister politely gave an indicative answer shaking her head. This is the generosity of Sheikh Hasina.

 

The writer is a Research Fellow, BNNRC