The present government is working for development of the country by implementing many mega projects. The Padma Bridge construction is nearing its end with funding from the state coffer and China. China is our best friend in economic development. The government has already taken an initiative to implement 17 projects in cooperation with China.
Chattogram is the second largest city in the southeast of Bangladesh and the main commercial capital of the country, a city of (57 lac 40 thousand) people. Chittagong Port is the largest economic workplace of the country where the Karnafuli is the longest amongst the rivers there. The Karnafuli River joins the Bay of Bengal, eventually dividing the city into two parts.
The industrial zone on the eastern side of the Karnafuli and the seaport, airport on the western side require urgently a Hinterland for connectivity with the city. Development of regional communication infrastructure as part of the Asian Highway Network is needed to reduce travel time, traffic congestion and to be part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The tunnel, being built along the bottom of the Karnafuli River, has been named "Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel". Chattogram is located at the third location of the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) corridor. Starting from Kunming in China the corridor will end in Kolkata, India via Myanmar and Bangladesh. Our neighboring country India has land tunnels but Bangladesh is the first SAARC country in the subcontinent to build a tunnel under the sea or river.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with China for construction of a tunnel in Bangladesh in June 2014. One year later, a business agreement was signed between the two parties in the presence of Road Transport Minister Yang Chuangtang on June 30, 2015. Chinese President Xi Jinping officially inaugurated the project in October 2016. Exim Bank of China signed the loan agreement on November 6, 2017. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the tunnel boring work on 24th February, 2019. The construction period of the project is 5 years.
Why this tunnel:
There are various reasons behind the construction of the tunnel. According to several government reports, the purpose of the corridor as part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which connects China's Kunming with India via Myanmar and Bangladesh, is:
1. To increase market access to goods and services and eliminate tariff barriers.
2. To accelerate trade facilitation, invest in infrastructure development and joint extraction and development of mineral water and other natural resources.
3. To get connected to the Asian Highway.
4. To build Chattogram like Shanghai, China on the mold of "One City and Two Town".
5. To support the Blue Economy revolving around the Bay of Bengal.
6. To provide more support to Exclusive Chinese Economic and Korean Export Processing Zone in Anwara Upazila.
7. To develop the existing road network in Chattogram city as well as uninterrupted road communication.
8. To upgrade the Commercial City as a transport hub.
9. To promote communication and trade between the two banks of the river Karnafuli.
10. To reduce vehicular pressure on the existing two bridges over the Karnafuli river.
11. To connect the town under construction on the east side of Karnafuli with the main place of business and trade and to accelerate the development work.
12. To expand new towns and settlements on the east bank of the river Karnafuli.
13. To further enhance the existing facilities of Chittagong Port.
14. To develop further road connectivity between Dhaka, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar.
Tunnel project description:
The tunnelroad at the bottom of Karnafuli River will be of four lanes; twin tube type main tunnel length of 3.315 km, 550m outside Patenga end and 5.35 km approach road including 4.8 km at the other end. Due to the convoy of Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Factory at Anwara end, there is a 727-meter flyover bridge, which will connect Anwara Upazila with Chattogram city.
According to the current proposed design of the government, the entrance of Bangabandhu Tunnel will be built in the southwestern part of the airport from Patenga, two kilometres downstream of Karnafuli river in front of Navy Avenue.
The total length of the tunnel is 9.392 km, a duel tunnel between the Fertilizer Factory, Karnafuli Fertilizer Company, and Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited on the other side of the Karnafuli River. The tunnel is being constructed using industrial driven methane system; the depth of the tunnel from the bottom of the river will be 18 to 31 metres or at least 36 feet to 108 feet deep.
The largest machine in South Asia and the main one, a three-storey building size, imported from China with a height of 94 meters, -the main excavator- weighing 22,000 tonnes is the tunnel boring machine TBM which cuts soil, sand, and even hard soil. TBM is being applied as an alternative to traditional hand-mining in the case of drilling and blasting (D&B) methods and soils.
Other tunnel related information:
Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) preserves solely the Bridge Division of the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridge Law while the tunnel contractor is China Communication Construction Company Limited (CCCC), whereasfinancing company is Export Import Bank of China (Exim),the Government of China and it is their single largest investment in Bangladesh.
The consulting firms of the tunnel are Avi Arup & Partners Hong Kong Limited, Dave Consultant Limited, ACE Consultant Limited and Strategy Consulting Limited's associate SM International Pvt. Australia and COWI A/S Joint venture of Denmark (SMEC-CO Dar Umay JV).The estimated expenditure is Tk. 10 thousand 374.42 crore; out of which 4 thousand 461.23 crore will be borne by the government of Bangladesh, the remaining 5 thousand 319.19 croreloan assistance will be provided by our good friend China.
On the path to economic prosperity:
Completion of this tunnel will create economic pulsation in most parts of the country. It will give Chattogram a new look. It will become a commercial city in a true sense. As it is the first tunnel in South Asia, the importance of Chattogram will increase immensely.
Myanmar-China-Hong Kong-Thailand linkage will start Bangladesh's economic development; so from now on the country is heading eastward for economic development, so, the role of China is very important for us in this context. The report on the construction of the Karnafuli Tunnel shows that at the operational level, the tunnel is expected to add a direct value of Tk 30 million (3 crore) to the economy of Bangladesh every year. According to the report, 63 lac vehicles will pass through the tunnel in 2022. Three years later, it will increase to 13 milllion (one crore 39 lac), which will ultimately reach into 3 crore 39 lac and 5 crore 5 lac in the year 2050 and 2062 respectively.
Transportation to Cox's Bazar through this tunnel will improve, the distance from Chattogram to Cox's Bazar will be reduced to about 30 kilometres. It will save money and will have a positive impact on the economy. On the other hand, the distance from the airport to Anwara will be reduced to only 2 km, making it easier for local and foreign investors to travel. Bypassing the city from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar will be easy. As a result, traffic congestion will decline considerably. Huge economic activities will be there centring on this tunnel, especially the deep seaport, the Maheshkhali LNG Terminal and Banshkhali Coal Power Plant.
In addition to 23 different types of enterprises, three big companies, Gaia Product Development Company and Daegu Product Development Company have started setting up their units. It is hoped that export-oriented footwear, garment, textile and other manufacturing units will be set up in the area. Consequently, it will have economic growth, create a lot of jobs, unemployed youth and women will be employed.
On the other hand, China Economic Zone is being set up in Anwara on 783 acres of land. China Harbor Engineering Company will invest Tk. 160 billion (16,000 crore) in the area and 31 industrial factories including export-oriented shipbuilding, electronics, furnace and cement industries will be set up.
Private Economic Zone is being developed by the country's 27 years old industrial group, Saad Mudra Group; on their 400 acres of land, industrial enterprises from different countries including China, Korea, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia have expressed interest in investing in the industrial park.
A 300MW power plant will be set up by United Group. On the other hand, S Alam Group and China's Shandom Electric Power Construction have started work on a 1320 MW coal-fired power plant at Banshkhali. In Cox's Bazar-Maheshkhali-Matarbari area, the country's first deep seaport, coal-fired power plant, LNG station, have started attracting domestic and foreign investment.
Coastal tourism development has been proposed on 1700 acres of land at Parkir Char on the eastern side of Karnafuli River where development work is going to start soon whereas South Patenga on the western side of the Karnafuli is proposed to be developed as a recreational area. In addition to modernization of Patenga Beach, more new areas will be developed, the west coast area will be reserved for camping, picnics, annual sports and other recreational activities and the area east of Patenga Road will be used as an amusement park. The space between the airport and the industrial area has been identified for use as a tourist destination. There are plans to build Harbor Frost Public i.e. a crossroads for walking from the airport to the Navy station. Establishment of communication system with the eastern bank of Karnafuli river will lead to development of tourism industry there.
Current state of the tunnel:
Despite the coronavirus, one out of two tubes has been placed, now the work of laying the second tube is going on. So far the physical infrastructure of the project has progressed 55.5 per cent while financial progress has been 50.26 per cent. the boring work on the second tunnel is expected to be completed by December 2021.
Abu lQuasem Haider is Founder Chairman, Eastern University, Australian School and Abul Qasem Haider Mohilla College, Sandwip, Chattogram,former Senate Member, University of Dhaka