Last week a Bangla daily published a news item captioned ‘Bangabandhu International Airport would be constructed on the south side of the river Padma’. Actually the news gave me immense pleasure, like other Bangladeshis.
There is no reason to disagree that Bangladesh, in real sense, needs to build an international standard airport with modern architectural design. This writing is nothing but to share few words about that project.
Probably, in 2009, the initiative was taken to build the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport in Arial Bil area of Munshiganj district. Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took that initiative from her thought of building a very modern and world class airport in Bangladesh. Perhaps she thought of building such an airport that would be one of the major aviation hubs in the South and West Asia region. The Arial Bil area was considered suitable for building the airport for a number of reasons. But the local people were misguided by the vested quarter and the area was exploded with heavy protest and agitation. As a result, the project could not be implemented there. Then searching of a new place was started. I was the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Malaysia when those incidents occured.
We were on discussion with Malaysia about the construction of Padma Bridge at that time. Hon’ble Prime Minister personally discussed this matter with Malaysia on various occasions. It was expected that Malaysia would build the bridge. However, despite the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, Malaysia could not construct Padma Bridge. Finally, the Hon’ble Prime Minister took the decision to construct the bridge using our own fund and now the construction work is going on in full swing. I am not pulling that history anymore. During that time, I had the opportunity to talk to the Hon’ble Prime Minister about the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport. I found her strong determination to implement that project. As Malaysia was not successful in building the Padma Bridge, I contacted few Malaysian agencies in the initial stage with the proposal to build the Bangabandhu International Airport but did not get the courage to move forward later. However, I always wished that we should have that airport.
So far I remember, the Hon’ble Prime Minister was thinking of implementing the project at a convenient place near the Padma Bridge on the south side of Padma River, as it was not possible to build the airport in Arial Bil area. That area is roughly in the middle or centre of the country. We know that Janjira upazila of Shariatpur district is on one side and Shibchar Upazila of Madaripur district is on the other side of Padma Bridge. North-western side is more advantageous than the east side of the Bridge, due to a number of reasons. In that area, it would be possible to reclaim an area of more than 30 square kilometers from the river. There would be least requirement for acquisition of any cultivable or personal land. That means, the rehabilitation of people would not be a serious concern for the government. Apart from this, the river training plan for Padma Bridge could be extended as per the requirement of the airport and kept under the same management. Due to the available technology, being the reclaimed soil sandy, it will probably not need to wait a long time to start the construction on that soil. Above all, it would also be possible to extend the airport in future, if needed.
If the airport is built in that area, it would be easily connected with Dhaka-Khulna highway through a short connecting road. Besides, a train station named ‘Airport Station’ could be constructed at Janjira point of the Bridge for railway facilities. It would create the golden opportunity to transport goods using the river. For this reason an internal river port can be constructed in addition to a cargo or container depot at an appropriate place close to the airport.
I think it would be easy, cost effective and convenient for all of us if the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport is built on the sandy soil of Shibchar. Significant benefits might be: (1) Land acquisition and its related expenditure could be kept at the minimum. The area has very low density of population. Besides, the land reclaimed from the Padma will be the land of government as Khas land. (2) There exists very less agricultural land. It is not possible to cultivate because most of the area is sandy and submerged under water for maximum time of the year. (3) The place would be connected directly with the capital city of Dhaka through Padma Bridge. Barisal and Khulna divisions will be connected through Faridpur-Barisal and Dhaka-Khulna highway respectively. Lalon Bridge would connect North Bengal that means Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions. To connect the port city of Chittagong directly, a bridge should be constructed over the river Meghna connecting Chandpur and Shariatpur districts. Once the Meghna Bridge is built, Chittagong will be connected directly even with South and North Bengal. (4) It would facilitate the growth of river tourism once the Airport is built. It might be interesting to the transit passengers, which means the river tourism might play an important role for their entertainment. Apart from this, hotels will be built around the airport, a new city and its suburbs would be developed. (5) Export oriented industries would be established around the airport. Because, there is no airport in Bangladesh that has the opportunities to transport goods simultaneously through three routes like waterways, roads and air. (6) The airport will directly create employment opportunities for several thousand people. And indirectly, millions of people will find their ways to get employment. (7) Because the place is in the centre of Bangladesh and due to the convenience of communication, people of every district would be equally benefited. (8) The proposed airport will play a significant role in facilitating the connectivity of the countries of West Asia and Europe with the countries of Southeast Asia and Australia. The routes using this airport might be cost effective. (9) The proposed Second Padma Bridge could also be connected with this airport as it would also be very close to that. Actually two bridges on Padma (one to the east and other to the west side of the airport) would make the Bangabandhu Airport more important to our national economy and life. (10) Airports in most countries of the world are normally far from the capital city (up to 50 to 90 kms). In view of that, the said area of Shibchar might be an appropriate choice.
We know that area of the Hong Kong International Airport, which has one of the world’s largest terminals, is about 13 square kilometres, almost all of which is reclaimed land. The construction of the airport, built in 1998, took only six years to build. Singapore’s Changi International Airport, built on almost the same area of land, is one of the most important aviation hubs in South East Asia. And almost the entire land of the airport was reclaimed from the sea. Both the airports handle at least 50 million passengers annually.
If Hong Kong or Singapore could build airports on reclaimed land so many years ago, then we would certainly be succeeded in constructing the proposed Bangabandhu International Airport by reclaiming land from the river Padma in Shibchar. I believe many foreign companies will be interested and come forward to build the airport. The implementation of this project would be another bold initiative of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as she did for the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. That’s the expectation of the nation that she will, in this way, facilitate the development of Bangladesh to reach its desired goal.
The writer is a former ambassador and secretary