The Padma Bridge Project has recently come to focus for a wrong reason, so it appears. The latest information is that the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) is seeking less than half its allocation for the coming fiscal. Besides, as reported in the media, part of the current fiscal's allocation also might remain unutilised. If seen against the backdrop of a nearly three-fold increase in the cost of the project from the initial BDT 101.61 billion, this inability to utilise funds properly and on time is unfortunate.
When the project of the bridge proper was approved in August 2007 after the completion of the required land acquisition work earlier, the country held its head high. Then when a railway line was added in 2009, making the bridge two-tier, its poise only rose among the potential users and the public. Then against the backdrop of the World Bank's withdrawal from the project on unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, the government took a bold decision to undertake the project with domestic resources. Financing such a huge venture with own resources alone was unthinkable in the past. Once completed, this 6.1 km-long bridge will not only add 1.5 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and make cross-river capital-ward journey of 40 million southerners easy. Its completion will mark the geographical integration of river-interspersed Bangladesh finally.
Spans started being placed from 2017 onwards giving the bridge visibility above the water-line. However, some problems below the river-bed at the Maowa end called for a bit of revision in the design, and thereby time-extension. Top experts involved with the implementation of the bridge now say it will take another fifteen months for completion. While it has been very enthusiastic on every occasion when a new span was being placed, the BBA has apparently been rather laidback in explaining the overall progress of the bridge, both physical and financial. For the remaining fifteen months, it should have an effective public relations apparatus so that all questions that are raised can be addressed. Regular weekly briefings should become a norm.
Even about these fifteen months, two types of messages have come: one says the bridge will be completed by that time and the other states that the whole bridge will only be visible by then. There is a difference between `visibility' and using a completed bridge. It is the BBA's responsibility to remove any misgiving that may have crept into the public mind about the project's progress. It should also ensure as to how it can improve upon its fund-utilisation capacity. In a country where money is difficult to get allocated in the budget, it amounts to some inexcusable failure to ask for less fund than there is provision for in the books. One can easily ask what is holding the BBA back.
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