Wherever we stand today in these fifty-five thousand square miles of a country that boasts about a red-green flag, this has been possible because of following in the footsteps of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the best Bengali of the millennium and architect of independent Bangladesh. His daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is guiding us successfully with those mission and vision in sight.
Today under her visionary leadership, we are going to celebrate opening of the country's biggest infrastructure, the Padma Bridge. Just two decades ago it was a dream. Today it is a reality that resembles the patriotism and courage of the daughter of Bangabandhu.
During the first government of Sheikh Hasina, with the inauguration of the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna River on June 23, 1998, the communication system of Bangladesh saw a big change and economic growth began to accelerate. In 1999, her government began the pre-feasibility study on the Padma Bridge. Towards the end of her term, on July 4, 2001, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the Padma Bridge at the Mawa point.
What a wonderful match in history! In 1971, the Father of the Nation gifted us an independent Bangladesh. The last span of the Padma Bridge was installed to mark the golden jubilee of that independence.
However, the beginning of the Padma Bridge construction was not that smooth. Initially, the Asian Development Bank pledged financial assistance for construction of the bridge. The World Bank agreed to be the main lender. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) were also involved in financing. But then the World Bank accused a local and foreign group of their bid to conspire in hiring a bridge consultant. Although the WB could not prove the graft allegation, they cancelled the contract for the bridge project on June 29, 2012. As a result, ADB, one of the other lenders, along with the JICA and IsDB withdrew from financing the project.
At that time Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took a far-sighted decision against the deep-rooted conspiracy over the Padma Bridge. In July 2012, she told a cabinet meeting that Bangladesh would build the Padma Bridge with its own funds. When the people of the country heard about construction of the Padma Bridge, they all cooperated with the government. At that time, two accounts were opened at the local office of Sonali Bank Limited. Hundreds of people deposited their hard-earned money there. The funds were received from all sections of people including rickshaw pullers, students and day-labourers. Following this, on January 12, 2015, the Prime Minister inaugurated construction of the main bridge. Later, in 2017, a Canadian court ruled that the World Bank's allegation of corruption over the Padma Bridge project did not prove true.
Today, a decade later, it seems that the decision of Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was undoubtedly correct. In that situation, she was able to decide on establishing the bridge with own funds only because she is the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The Padma Bridge is one of the largest pieces of infrastructure in the world. A total of 41 spans have been installed on 42 pillars piled underwater having the height of a 40-storied building. The main length of the bridge is 6.15 km. The upper level of the two-tier bridge has a four-lane road which is 22-metre wide. A single-lane broad gauge railway track is being built on the lower tier.
Moreover, the bridge has gas transmission lines, fibre optics lines, and telephone ducts. Toll plazas, police stations, service areas, weigh stations, emergency assistance centres, bridges, box culverts, underpasses and other pieces of infrastructure have also been constructed on both sides of the bridge.
As a result of construction of the bridge, 21 districts in the southwest will directly benefit from it. All sectors, including the agro-industry, will get a big boost. This region will become the main production centre of the country. It will give the products produced in these areas, predominantly agricultural and perishable goods, a quick access to the market in the capital. It will connect the entire country with the ports of Payra, Mongla. Khulna's frozen fish and jute industry will expand.
In the meantime, various industries are being set up in different areas around the bridge. Among others, there is a master plan to establish Olympic Village, Bangabandhu Satellite City, Hitech Park, Airport, and Jazira Naodoba Sheikh Hasina Tantpalli.
According to a survey, the gross domestic product (GDP) will increase by 1.23 per cent after opening of the bridge. The south-western region will see the GDP grow by 2.3 per cent. The poverty rate will decline by 0.84 per cent every year.
According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) survey, at least 24,000 vehicles will pass through the Padma Bridge in 2022, of which 8,238 will be buses, 10,244 trucks, and more than 5,000 microbuses and private cars. By 2025, daytime traffic on the bridge will increase to 27,800, in 2030 to 36,785, and in 2040 to 51,807. Millions of people will get jobs only through this. The Padma Bridge will aid the economy of the whole country. Gradually it will add an impetus to tourism of the whole country.
As the long-awaited dream bridge and the connecting road are parts of the Asian Highway Route AH-1, they will provide an excellent opportunity to connect the South Asian countries. The bridge will also connect the Trans-Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway running through India, Bhutan and Nepal. As a result, the tourism sector along these routes will expand. It is expected that the Padma Bridge will play a big role in the economy of Bangladesh by 2035-40.
The writer is CEO & Managing Director of Sonali Bank Limited