Dhaka: Bangladesh’s largest bridge connecting capital Dhaka with its southern region has been opened to traffic, stoking hope among people that the megastructure will boost connectivity, trade and tourism in South and Southeast Asia.
The Padma Bridge stands as a testament to the country’s capabilities and a stepping stone for further development. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the 6.15km rail-road bridge on Saturday morning to the cheers of millions.
“This bridge is not just bricks, cement, iron, and concrete… This bridge is our pride, a symbol of our capacity, our strength, oudignity,” she told the inauguration. “This bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh.”
In 2012, the World Bank cancelled a $1.2 billion credit for the bridge raising corruption allegations none of which had been proven. Bangladesh withdrew its request for WB funding the next year and pushed ahead with domestic funding. At the inauguration, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader noted that the bridge was the “symbol of our capability”.
Hasina said this bridge was the epitome of the nation’s pride and competence. “No compromise was made on the quality of construction. It was built maintaining the highest standards,” she noted.
ECONOMIC LIFELINE, GREATER CONNECTIVITY
The bridge, Bangladesh’s biggest self-financed project costing nearly Tk 302 billion, is expected to raise the overall growth by 1.2 to 2 per cent annually. On Wednesday, Hasina said the mega structure would cut poverty by 0.84 per cent a year.
It will also help supply gas to industries in the southern region, triggering a boom in investment and raising prospects of employment and poverty alleviation. The opening of new factories in the industrially lagging south will also increase activities at Payra, Mongla and Benapole ports.
Distinguished Fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue thinktank Dr Mustafizur Rahman said the bridge should also be utilised as an economic corridor. Noting that 17 economic zones centring the Padma Bridge were on the cards, he urged the government to ensure other facilities for encouraging local and foreign investors to set up industries.
New Delhi has said that the bridge would help improve intra-Bangladesh connectivity and provide much-needed impetus to logistics and businesses connecting India and its shared sub-region.
Benapole and Petrapole are Bangladesh and India’s most prominent land ports, respectively. Once Indian vehicles carrying goods crossed the border and transferred the merchandise, it would take a painstakingly long time to cross the Padma by ferries to reach Dhaka.
The usual long queues at the ferry terminal and subsequent delays were traders’ nightmares. With the bridge in operation, goods can now reach Dhaka in a matter of hours. The bridge will also help connect Kolkata with Tripura.
In a statement, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka said this bridge would play an important role in fostering greater bilateral and sub-regional connectivity while the US embassy in Dhaka termed it another example of Bangladesh’s leadership in promoting regional connectivity in South Asia. It noted that the bridge would “create new and important linkages” within Bangladesh, boosting commerce and improving the quality of life.
Hasina said the bridge encapsulates our passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance. “The Padma Bridge has been built [and] Bangladesh’s economy has not collapsed. We have faced the coronavirus pandemic and after that, the war in Ukraine, but the economy is still moving forward. To the people of Bangladesh: I salute you.”
—-INDIA NEWS STREAM