Country Director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to Bangladesh Manmohan Parkash today said that the Dhaka-Sylhet corridor bears a strategic importance, and it would open immense possibilities for Bangladesh in subregional, regional and even in international trade.
"There will be many economic zones (in Sylhet region) where connectivity is the most important aspect. Improved connectivity will reduce transportation and trading cost, and promote foreign direct investment. This is a corridor of economic development and employment creation," he said.
The Dhaka–Sylhet corridor, once completed, will support a new trade route that connects Chattogram port with India’s northeastern states through the three land ports of Akhaura, Sheola, and Tamabil, and from there to Bhutan and Myanmar.
The corridor is also the centerpiece of the Bangladesh government’s planned Northeast Bangladesh Economic Corridor, which aims to promote key industries in the area, such as energy generation and production of construction materials, and to better integrate them with the rest of the economy in the country.
Manmohan said this project would hopefully lead to multimodal or intermodal transport eventually connecting roads, rails, river ports and the sea ports of Chattogram and Matarbari.
He said if border infrastructures are developed, it would be possible to facilitate a lot of industrial development there with the completion of the project since it is a part of the Asian Highway network.
Citing a recent study of ADB, he said that if it is possible to develop that region through infrastructural development, industrial development and also with skills development, then by 2030, the actual output would be around $30 billion and by 2050, the industrial output from this region can be $112 billion.
"Side by side, it will also enhance road safety, boost regional trade while the trade competitiveness of the companies and businesses will also improve. So, there will be multiplier impact, it will generate more jobs... we're hopeful it will lead to a sustainable development, much more inclusive development along the corridor," he added.
Citing that the entire Sylhet region has rich flora and fauna, Manmohan said it is high time to develop this region and thus build this economic corridor having immense potentials for trade.
Mentioning that this Sylhet region has huge reserves of gas, stones and white clay, he said the glass and ceramic industries could be developed there as well as the food processing industries based on agriculture products and fish production and marketing would also be benefited.
Besides, he said, there can be hospitality industries promoting tourism and eco- tourism as well as pharmaceuticals industries.
Manhoman said since this corridor is next to Meghalaya and Assam, locally manufactured products could go there and even to Tripura, Nepal and Bhutan, adding that this is really a corridor which can promote various industries.
"I think in the next 5-6 years when this project will be implemented, we'll lead to a very balanced regional development," he said, adding that optimum maintenance for roads, performance-based contracting and vehicle emission standard would be pursued in this project.
Manmohan said if performance-based contracting and vehicle emission standard are combined with good roads, vehicle safety standard and environmental considerations, then the people of that region would have a very livable area as a whole.
For ensuring optimum maintenance of the corridor, he said two or more toll plazas would be installed so that enough revenues are generated for maintenance of the corridor as well as there is a proper toll realization system to prevent toll evasion.
"It will be a technology-based corridor which will use good practices in terms of construction, maintenance, toll collection, environmental side and promoting good road behavior. We're looking forward to it as one of the transformational project which will leverage the ADB's commitment to quality infrastructure project... ultimately we would like to create more jobs for people so that they don't need to come to Dhaka," he added.
Referring to two separate studies of ADB on South West Regional Development incorporating Padma Bridge and the North East Regional Development, the ADB Country Director said altogether, these two regions can add up to $262 billion by 2050 to the country's GDP size.
In this regard, he said the focus has to be on developing other parts of Bangladesh and thus bringing those almost in the same level of Dhaka and Chattogram.
Manmohan also opined that Bangladesh needs such more projects for its smooth LDC graduation which it would lead to the country's strong trade competitiveness.
Answering to a question, he said that the construction work of the project would begin in the next couple of months, adding, "We're very happy to support it. It was a long standing demand of the people of this region and I hope this project will open up immense potentials."
The project road is the main part of Road Corridor No. 5 under the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program. Its improvement will reduce logistics costs, increase competitiveness, and help expand regional trade with neighboring South Asian countries, as well as providing safe accessibility to the community members.
The SASEC Dhaka–Sylhet Corridor Road Investment Project will be delivered in four tranches.
The $400 million first tranche of the MFF will help finance the initial works of the major contracts for the widening of about 210 kilometers (km) of National Highway No. 2 along the Dhaka–Sylhet corridor from a two-lane to a four-lane road with slow-moving vehicular traffic lanes.
It will include 60 km of footpath, 26 footbridges, and 13 overpasses. Its design will have features responsive to the needs of the elderly, women, children, and the differently able, as well as disaster and climate risks.
The government will fund $911 million of the total project cost of $2.69 billion. Apart from the MFF, ADB will also provide a $1 million technical assistance grant from its Technical Assistance Special Fund and an additional $2 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, financed by the government of Japan, to support capacity building of the Roads and Highways Department on road safety and maintenance, climate change, and gender equality and social inclusion.
Transport and trade facilitation are among the priorities of SASEC members, which since 2001, have invested more than $14.3 billion in projects in the region, including 43 transport projects worth $11.4 billion.