Why a bridge in Bangladesh is making waves: The Tribune India
Sandeep Dikshit in Dhaka
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had tears in her eyes as she stood up to inaugurate the multi-level rail-road bridge over the Padma River on a cloudy and wet morning on June 25.
Not a “white elephant”
We are far from Sri Lanka. Our projects are not “white elephants”. We collected Rs 2 crore toll on the Padma River in the first five to seven days. Projects should be approached with caution. Some may interest China but you have to be careful. It’s a constant challenge to balance relationships in a very nervous world where friends get angry easily. Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh
She has reason to be moved, and India to be relieved, as what was once decried as a “white elephant” driven by an “India-loving regime” is finally operational.
A bridge over a river shouldn’t be a big deal. But Padma is no ordinary river. Simply put, where the bridge was built is the Ganges (called Padma in Bangladesh) plus the Brahmaputra (Jamuna). Leaving aside more than 4 km of approaches, the actual bridge extends to the horizon with the Padma. While the double-layered steel truss bridge has a four-lane highway on its upper level, on the lower level passes a single-track railway line.
After Hasina came to power for the second time in 2009, surviving an assassination attempt and a medically debilitating period of detention, Dhaka abandoned the previous regime’s policy of blocking meaningful trade with the country. India and to harbor almost all of the leaders of several terrorist organizations such as the United States. Assam Liberation Front. The fact that the UPA government has abandoned the reciprocal hostility that marked the approach of the previous NDA government has helped.
It was then that Hasina revived the project and turned to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for help. But allegations of corruption began to swirl around the project. Hasina’s family was targeted, as were project planners Masihur Rehman and Mosharraf Hussain. The growing crescendo of allegations ostensibly forced the World Bank and others to pull out of the project, leaving Hasina embarrassed.
From India’s perspective, hopes of reaching Dhaka much sooner had begun to fade. It also seemed that there were forces trying to foment a color revolution, a tried and true Western formula for toppling troublesome regimes where the first act is to bring charges of corruption.
Hasina, meanwhile, said Bangladesh would have the bridge, even with its own resources. For a few months, it appeared to be toying with a $2 billion loan offer from China, much to the dismay of strategic analysts in New Delhi. The construction was undertaken by a Chinese company, but as pointed out by Commodore Mohammed Nurul Ansar, Chairman of the Central Foundation for International and Strategic Studies of Bangladesh, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to clarify that it was a bridge built with its own money and was not part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Dhaka’s reaction came after sections of Beijing sought to include it in the BRI.
But in the end, it was Bangladesh’s own resources, including helpful grants from friendly countries like India, that lent $200 million. It was also a multinational effort. A large number of countries contributed technical advice and specialized construction materials such as cement for the piers, as normal cement would not withstand the fast flowing waters of the Padma.
For India, the bridge means that together with Bangladesh, it can give real shape to the Asian Highway to the East. A population explosion is occurring in Bangladesh and its government must put the economy on a higher growth trajectory of almost 10% over two decades. The road connection of the 21 southern districts, which include Khulna, Jashore and Barisal, is expected to boost economic activities; maybe add 1 percent to the GDP. Shorter links to India and ultimately links to outbound markets in East Asia could add another 1% to GDP.
India has traditionally lent a helping hand to its friendly neighbours. But with Bangladesh, he is developing a relationship that would benefit both. Since 2007-2008, when political ties were strained and trade languished at just $100 million, Bangladesh has developed manufacturing capacity in several areas. The country’s population explosion could prove to be a blessing.
A Canadian court cleared Hasina’s sister and son of the bribery charge. Few gave Bangladesh, a Least Developed Country (LDC), a ghost of luck with the project. For Hasina, it was a vindication she wasn’t afraid to flaunt. “Dr. Yunus, a social entrepreneur and economist, lobbied the United States to stop funding for the bridge. Building the bridge was a perfect response to him and all the other conspirators,” she told a huge rally on the Padma, becoming the first to cross it by road. But the last word went to the World Bank which, without a hint of remorse, praised Bangladesh and said it would boost inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty in Bangladesh.
Asia Highway 1
Guwahati (India)-Tamabil-Sylhet-Dhaka-Bhanga–Jashore-Benapole (Bangladesh)-Petrapole (India)
- It will be the shortest distance between two parts of India via Bangladesh.
- The cooperative project includes more than 1,45,000 routes crossing 32 countries. Asian Highway 1 is the longest route in the Asian highway network that connects countries like Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to Turkey and Bulgaria.
Trans-Asian Railway 4
Petrapole (India)- Benapole-Jashore-Bhanga-Dhaka-Akhura-Chittagong-Dohazari-Gundum (Bangladesh)-Myanmar
- This will reduce the distance traveled between Dhaka and Kolkata by 63 km
- The network comprises approximately 1,25,500 km of rail lines serving 28 member countries, aiming to create an integrated freight rail network across Europe and Asia.
Connecting Southern Bangladesh
Until now, gigantic ferries that loaded trucks, buses and cars were the only way for people from 21 southern districts to get to Dhaka. Disaster was a constant companion. Last October, a ferry sank with 17 trucks. There are many less spectacular accidents because people had no alternative until now. Patients are known to have died while waiting for a ferry that was delayed by rough waters. Shaban Mehmood, Minister (Press) of the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi, could not believe he traveled this distance in 10 minutes to his home village as he traveled with a group of visiting Indian journalists via the bridge.
Faster journey from India
The Padma Bridge will significantly reduce the travel time from Kolkata to Dhaka. At present, Maitree Express takes 10 hours to cover a distance of 400 km. Soon after the completion of the railway line, the train will be able to reach in three and a half hours as the distance will be reduced to only 251 km.
The largest island to benefit
Char-Janajat Island, one of the largest islands in the Ganga-Padma Channel, is home to two lakh people struggling to survive amid flooding and erosion. The Padma Bridge in the Char-Janajat region will enable local communities to improve their socio-economic situation. The bridge will establish a connection with the eastern and western parts of the country. Erosion and vulnerability of Char-lands in the Padma Channel will be reduced through construction. The livelihoods and socio-economic improvement of the inhabitants of Char will be ensured.