Bangladesh will enter a new era on 25 June, 2022. Our long awaited mega project Padma Bridge willbe inaugurated on that day. This is the largest infrastructural project of Bangladesh so far. The economic implication of Padma Bridge is enormous as it will directly rejuvenate the business, economy and lifestyle of a large part of our country. The challenge to build this bridge is worth writing a book by itself. But the valorous leadership of Prime minister Sheikh Hasina turned Padma Bridge into a reality. It is truly a glorious addition to the legacy and history of this country. Hence, we all need to protect Padma Bridge as well as surrounding ecosystem to attain maximum benefits.
The opening of Padma Bridge is going to be a major transition for the nation as the mega structure is going to open up new possibilities for the national economy. The 6.15km mega infrastructure will tie the two sides of the mighty Padma River, which has kept the country’s over one-fourth population apart from the capital Dhaka till now. Padma Bridge will have a deep impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people of 21 south and southwestern districts. Economists predict that the bridge will help increase the country’s GDP by 1.23 percent while that of south and southwestern districts by over 2 percent by creating employment opportunities for some 10 million people. Economic zones will be created and more employment will be generated while eco-parks, industrial parks, tourism and other service sectors will grow after the bridge is open.
At least 30 million people, one-fifth of the country’s total population, will directly benefit from the bridge, according to a study carried out by the World Bank. In a study, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that the construction of the Padma Bridge would significantly help improve various sectors of the economy nationally and regionally. Padma Bridge will build an indispensable connection within the framework of Bangladesh. The bridge will erect part of the A-1 line of the Asian Highway also.
As a result, people from all sectors, including business and agriculture, will benefit, impacting the country’s GDP. The accessibility study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) predicts that after the completion of the Padma Bridge, the daily traffic volume will reach 21,300 vehicles and 41,600 vehicles per day by 2025. It said the bridge will save approximately 681,600 liters of fuel per day. On the other hand, ADB has estimated that the Padma Bridge will carry an average of 24,000 vehicles per day in 2024 and 67,000 by 2050. According to ADB, the long-term that is 31 years road user benefit of the Padma Bridge in the traffic model will stand at $18.512 billion, while Social Accounting Matrix (SAM) has estimated the total project benefit at nearly $25 billion in the period.
Meanwhile, economic activity in the southwest has already amplified around the bridge, with mass-level industrialization underway. Land near highways is now selling at three times higher than the earlier prices. There is also an expectation for the rapid growth of mega factories, hospitals, universities, housing industries, and small businesses around the Padma Bridge. Besides, the ship-breaking industry, RMG, assembling plantand storage facilities will be set up in the southern part. BSCIC sources said 500 to 1000 factories of the different sectors will be set up in six districts of Barisal division in the next 10 years.
Infrastructure generates economic benefit to the extent they create services for people. The return from investments depends on enabling policy framework and supporting measures. One of the preconditions is the development of all regions including the rural areas and creating opportunities for people everywhere. Decentralization of services and opportunities is critical for gaining benefits from such infrastructure. For example, setting up of industries in the newly connected districts will help stop migration from the rural areas to the big cities for work. Better access to finance for small and medium businesses such as agro-processing, handicrafts and food industries will also help create jobs. Besides, improvement of facilities such as uninterrupted electricity, internet, education and healthcare in the villages will restrain people from crowding the cities.
It is important that, the Padma Bridge is used properly for maximum benefits. To make Padma Bridge more accessible, toll rate should be moderate to low. The government should focus on making people and businesses use this bridge as the best transportation option. High toll will make people less interested in using this bridge, especially for trading businesses. Hence, the government should fix a toll rate which will be commercially viable.
Padma Bridge became a reality after overcoming many challenges imposed by the World Bank, JICA, global and national politics. So, many, inside and outside the country is not happy with the completion of Padma Bridge and they can try to sabotage this infrastructure to make the government look bad as many already talked of engineering fault and high costs related to the bridge. Moreover, huge development and progress of Bangladesh during the last decade is also not welcome by everyone, mostly due to political reasons. Hence, the government must make strong arrangement for ensuing the security and management of Padma Bridge for at least next 10-20 years.
One risk factor associated with the Padma Bridge is the possible destruction of surrounding ecosystem. Ecosystem of areas surrounding Meghnariver was severely damaged by Meghna and Daudkandi Bridge. Similar happened with Shitolokhya, Buriganga, Turag, Balu, Dholeshwari and other rivers as industries and infrastructures were built at the adjacent areas of these rivers. These severely caused water and soil pollution and we do not find much fish in those rivers now. Additionally, crops got contaminated due to polluted water. This was a serious havoc due to unplanned urbanization and industrialization of riverside areas.
After inauguration of the bridge, many industries, buildings, resorts etc. may be built in the surrounding area. The wastes of those infrastructures will directly go to the Padma river and will later move to other adjacent rivers including Meghna. Hence, it is possible that the natural habitats of many species including fishes will be destroyed, which will deplete our food supply also. Moreover, the polluted water will enter soil to contaminate corns and plants, which will increase risks of different diseases. This will be devastating for the nature, ecosystem and human health. Moreover, we are already facing several challenges of nature and that will further escalate if Padma or Meghnaexperience the same fate as Buriganga.
The government must restrict building of any infrastructures, buildings, resorts and other commercial infrastructure within at least 20km radius of Padma Bridge at both sides. If any such infrastructures are built, they that must contain a fully running UTP plant of its own for waste management. Additionally, the government must remain careful in managing wastes generated on Padma Bridge itself. We must give full priority to protect the ecosystem of areas surrounding Padma Bridge. Otherwise, we will face such loss which will be much more than several Padma Bridge in terms of costs. If environmental damages are not considered, our largest bridge, Padma Bridge will destroy our largest river.
Padma Bridge is an icon of Bangladeshi nationalism. We have faced conspiracy, scandals and many other challenges to complete this mega project. It was PM Sheikh Hasina’s courageous decision to build this bridge with own money, which made this project possible. Millions of people have billions of dreams attached with Padma Bridge. Only if we are careful enough in using this bridge and surrounding areas, then those dreams will come true. We hope, Padma Bridge will take us to new heights globally.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)