The Padma Setu– Bangladesh’s Pride
Dr Sreeradha Datta, Centre Head & Senior Fellow, Neighbourhood Studies, VIF

‘Today the Padma is awash with the glow of red, blue, green and golden colours. The 41 spans (of the Padma bridge) are mirroring the courage of Bangladesh. I know Bangladeshi are proud. I am also delighted proud and elated. Overcoming many struggles and conspiracies we have successful built this bridge.’ This bridge is not a structure made up of only bricks, cement and steel, this bridge also is a reflection of our pride, our ego, our strength and courage.’ [1] These words of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the inauguration of the longest rail road 6.15 km bridge over the turbulent river Padma, reflect the joy, celebration and pride of entire Bangladeshis as well. As Sheikh Hasina emotionally notes, Padma bridge denotes much more than just connectivity or technical expertise which it certainly has showcased rather brilliantly, it is also a timely reply to all those who doubted Bangladesh’s capacity and its leader.

The Padma bridge is also a technical marvel with the deepest foundation with the piles laid up to a maximum depth of 122 metres with sophisticated technology used for earthquake prevention.[2] This, 10.642 kilometres long construction with 41 spans attached to 42 pillars was first conceived during Sheikh Hasina’s first term as Prime Minister (1996-2001). The pre-feasibility study for the bridge was initiated during 1998-99 and the project design was finalised soon after Sheikh Hasina started her second term post in 2009, infact an electoral promise, although the foundation stone for the Padma Bridge was laid much earlier on July 4, 2001. The electoral promise of the bridge took shape when the construction was undertaken by China Major Bridge Engineering Co Ltd (wholly owned subsidiary of the China Railway Group)the lone bidder for the project, much later in 2015. But this was not before the project ran into many difficulties. Earlier in 2012, the World Bank (WB) that had offered funds (USD 1.2 billion) alongside other donors, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. But WB cancelled the funding plans for the bridge project, citing concerns about corruption among Bangladeshi government officials, executives at a Canadian-based construction firm, SNC Lavalin.[3] Although subsequently the allegation was dismissed by the Canadian court, Sheikh Hasina had decided that Bangladesh would build the bridge without external funding support, although India had stepped in offering a certain portion of its Lines of Credit to Bangladesh towards the bridge project.

The last span of the 6.15 km long bridge was completed in December 2021 . With a total budget of 3.9 USD will contribute strongly to improving the economies specially of the 21 south and south western districts which has now easy access to Dhaka through the Mawa and Janjira points at the Padma.[4] Infact while there has been escalation from the earlier estimates economists are of the opinion that for every rupee spent it will generate the double the amount. It will also connect with the Mongla port thus enabling a new opportunity for trade and commerce for entire nation. The completion of the Padma bridge along with the Jamuna bridge interconnects Bangladesh more fully and it has been estimated that the economic contribution will be over 1.2 percent to Bangladesh’s annual GDP growth, while the southern districts will show over 2 percent growth. Expectedly, significant economic structural development will now occur in the south and southwest districts connecting it to the rest of Bangladesh and opening up the region to enormous possibilities.

Connects Bangladesh and the Region

The journey over the choppy Padma river was never easy thus these districts remained disconnected from the mainland’s commerce and economic activities. And with little scope of development there was no investments forthcoming to for any significant economic growth in these areas. While there was hardly any industrial growth even the agricultural or service sector lagged behind. Hopefully this will be in the past now. Expectedly, the transaction costs will be brought down sharply with starting of the multipurpose bridge. The southwestern districts of Faridpur, Jessore, Kushtia, Bhola, and Barishal amongst others, will see development taking place, now that Bangladesh will be integrated more fully. This Padma bridge will also connect India and the region more robustly too. As estimated the train journey between Kolkata and Dhaka will be shortened by two hours making Dhaka- Kolkata route possible to travel in 5 hours and the buses that travel from Bangladesh to Agartala will be able to reach its destination in 7-8 hours too. Also, if its is connected with the Akhaura-Agartala rail link which is only 159 km from the Padma Bridge it will provide easier access between Bangladesh and India’s Northeast region. The new bridge will enable a new route for Trans-Asian Railway network making it the shortest route to connect with India and Myanmar as shown in the map below too. [5]

Also Bangladesh with is connected with three Asian Highway Route namely, AH-1, AH-2, AH -41 . the AH -1 Had two missing link. The completion of the Padma bridge fills one and the Kalna Bridge which will be complete later this year will close the last gap.[6] Thus, Bangladesh already registering sustainable growth is on the crux of ushering in a more comprehensive growth pattern that would be reaching a large population of a geography that was earlier much neglected for lack of connectivity and easy transportation.

For Sheikh Hasina the Padma bridge is more than an electoral promise fulfilled, it is more than ensuring the nearly 40 million more Bangladeshis enjoying the fruits of economic growth and prosperity. It is a showcasing of its ability to build the largest infrastructure project with its own funds and means and technical expertise, sending a clear message of Bangladesh’s strength and its ability to stand tall in face of naysayers and prove them all wrong.

Indeed, Sheikh Hasina has ensured that not only domestic critics have been silenced but she will not allow any of its bilateral partners to take away this distinct achievement. Dhaka has distanced itself from Chinese claim of the Padma bridge being part of the Belt and Road Initiative project and has pointedly set the facts straight. The South Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh’s statement that , ‘Korea is very happy to take part in this very proud history-making project. A Korean company, Korea Expressway Corporation has supervised the construction process of the Padma Bridge and this company will also be in charge of the operation and maintenance of the bridge,’ has reinforced the status of the project. [7] India has also lauded Bangladesh’s achievement strongly, stating that, ‘This success vindicated the Prime Minister's decisions and also our conviction in this regard, as expressed through our steadfast support when Bangladesh decided to proceed with the project alone.’[8] The whole international community has praised Bangladesh and its leader on this momentous milestone.

While Sheikh Hasina has commemorated this occasion with the release of a postage stamp, the successful implementation of the Padma bridge project, following closely the celebration of its 50 years and its momentous economic journey, will remain one of Bangladesh’s remarkable achievements. Not only will the Padma bridge be transformational for Bangladesh, but it is a personal victory for the leader of this growing South Asian nation who has overcome many hardships and obstacles to reach this highpoint. Most certainly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s success as a developmental leader in the region has been etched in stone.

Endnotes :

[1]Jayanta Acharjee, “ Padma Bridge: বর্ণময়উৎসবেরমধ্যদিয়েবাংলাদেশেরপ্রধানমন্ত্রীরপদ্মাসেতুউদ্বোধন,”
Aajkal,25 June 2022 at https://aajkaal.in/news/international/padma-bridge-open-5bzw (authors translation)
[2]Anisur Rahman , “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opens Bangladesh's longest bridge.” The Telegrah, 25 June 2022 at https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/prime-minister-sheikh-hasina-opens-bangladeshs-longest-bridge-named-padma-bridge/cid/1871774
[3]http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=541862638
[4] “Padma Bridge project is awarded to a Chinese firm,” 30 May 2014 ,Economist Intelligence, at http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=541862638
[5]TuhinSubhraAdhikary, “Padma Bridge: A leap for Asian connectivity”, The Daily Star, 24 June 2022 at https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/transport/news/leap-asian-connectivity-3054961
[6] Tuhin Subhra Adhikary, “Padma Bridge: A leap for Asian connectivity”, The Daily Star, 24 June 2022 at https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/transport/news/leap-asian-connectivity-3054961
[7]Samir K Purkayastha, “Dhaka, Seoul snub China’s claim on Padma Bridge in Bangladesh,” The Federal , 20 June , 2022 at https://thefederal.com/news/dhaka-seoul-snub-chinas-claim-on-padma-bridge-in-bangladesh//
[8]Press Release, “Padma Bridge Inauguration,” High Commission of India, Dhaka, on 25 June 2022 at https://www.hcidhaka.gov.in/press?id=eyJpdiI6InFZeCtCZUpXUTE3d0JJOFkralwvRHBBPT0iLCJ2YWx1ZSI6ImJFcUIyOWFBbDdtQ1JIdlwvMktlOTN3PT0iLCJtYWMiOiIxMTg0ZjNjMTkzZjgwOTYzODE2N2ViMDc3ZjU1MmY5MjEzYTk5ZDUzYTU5YmJhNGRlNjRiMTU3Nzg0ZTY5NmRlIn0=

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