Friday, 1 July, 2022

Padma Bridge Opening: Countdown Begins

Padma Bridge Opening: Countdown Begins

While the nation awaits for the inauguration of the iconic Padma Multipurpose Bridge by the Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina on 25 June, next Saturday,  the countdown for the inauguration has begun for this auspicious  and an important national event. The inauguration will be celebrated in all sixty four districts across the nation.  By all definitions this is the first mega development project implemented in Bangladesh in last fifty years and that too self-financed, considered by many impossible when the World Bank cancelled its decision to finance the project on 29 June 2012 on the pretext that there is a conspiracy of corruption involving the project though the World Bank was yet to release any money for the project. Initially the project was being financed by the Government of Bangladesh, Japanese donor agency JICA, ADB, IDB and none of these financiers ever lodged any such complaint before  the World Bank ‘discovered’ such a ‘conspiracy.’ Mention may be made that initially the  World Bank was not in this project, but while some part of the work, like land acquisition, construction of some approach roads, drafting of the rehabilitation plan were in progress, the World Bank expressed its intention to be part of the financing team. WB has been developing partner of Bangladesh for at least last four decades and the government took the World Bank offer in good earnest, not apprehending that there may be other intention behind their late entry. Such behaviour of the World Bank is not new and it has happened in Egypt, India and in few other countries.

Besides the delay in implementing the projects because of the unwarranted intervention and decision to stop the funding by the World Bank, the project will go down in history for many other multidimensional reasons. The project was conceived in 1998 when Sheikh Hasina first formed the Awami League government in 1996 after a lapse of twenty one years following the brutal assassination of her father and Father or the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15 August 1975 along with her entire family following a long drawn and well-choreographed conspiracy. It was expected that Bangladesh Awami League will be able to come back to power in the general election of 1991 following the downfall of military ruler General Ershad made possible by a mass upsurge where Bangladesh Awami League along with other political parties and student and labour organizations played very important and decisive roles. But unfortunately she and her party fell victim to a well laid conspiracy and election machination by BNP and Jamaat.

The return of Awami League led government to state power in the election of 1996 needed lots of well-crafted strategy and detailed planning and homework. The party by this time gained substantial maturity to match its counterparts. During the 1996-2001 Bangladesh Awami League and its leaders were going through a rough political terrain as the state machinery, i.e., the bureaucracy and other national institutions were full of people loyal to post Bangabandhu governments, the martial law and pseudo martial law dictators and rulers. During this period Sheikh Hasina government’s notable achievement was the trial of the killers of Bangabandhu and his family though it was suspended when Begum Zia led four party alliance government returned to power following the election of 2001. During this period not only the rule of law took a back seat but also state sponsored corruption and militancy took an ugly form which not only alarmed the people of the country but also sent wrong signals to other countries and donor agencies. International media did not hesitate to term Bangladesh as a ‘Cocoon of Terror.’ Terror financing and gun running to the eastern states of India to destabilize the region became an everyday affair while people were getting accustomed to living in fear and intimidation. Annihilation of opposition political leaders became a virtual declared policy of the government in power, the 21 August 2004 grenade attack on a public rally of Awami League made headlines in international media. The attack was primarily directed towards the killing the then Leader of Opposition, Sheikh Hasina and other senior party leaders. Begum Zia tried to prolong her stay in power using all sorts of unethical and unconstitutional means but had to relinquish her power to a military backed civilian government, commonly known as the government of one eleven. That government too flouted the Constitution and attempted to prolong their stay beyond the six months allowed to them by the Constitution but they also had to finally yield to the public demand and arrange for a general election in the month of December of 2008 which resulted in a landslide victory for Bangladesh Awami League and the allies. Sheikh Hasina was elected the Prime Minister for the second time.

Currently Sheikh Hasina is in her fourth term as the Prime Minister, third time in a row and during the last thirteen years her priority has been the development of the country and the uplift of the socio-economic condition of the common people. Since Sheikh Hasina formed the government in 2009 for the second time because of her economic policies, leadership and farsightedness the country managed to graduate from the Least Development Status (LDC) to a Developing country status which is expected to be complete in 2026.

The sudden outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic did disrupt the normal process of development. During this period the country took up quite a few mega projects with the help of international donor agencies and through bilateral arrangements with other development partners. The notable  projects include putting a Bangladeshi communication satellite in orbit, the Dhaka Metro Rail Mass Transport Service, construction of  the Karnaphuli Bay Container Terminal resulting in the expansion of Chattogram port, expansion of the Hajrat Shahjalal International Airport, construction of a tunnel under the river Karnaphuli connecting the two sides of the Karnaphuli River, the Ruppur Nuclear Power plant, Rampal Power Plant, Matarbari Deep Sea Port, Paira Sea Port and finally the much talked about the Padma  Multipurpose Bridge to be inaugurated next week fulfilling the dreams of millions of people of the country and taking Bangladesh to a next level of international recognition giving the message to the international community that Bangladesh is capable of implementing such a mega project braving all the odds and international and local conspiracy. Meanwhile the government has decided to begin physical work on Bangladesh’s first 34.24 km underground metro rail within September this year.  BNP and its rag-tag allies, the one-man party leaders and a section of individuals from the civil society still cannot reconcile with the fact that such a self-financed mega project is possible in Bangladesh.  Only if the government has a vision and is led by someone like Sheikh Hasina, a leader with courage, determination and self-confidence, such seemingly impossible task can be completed successfully. The completion of the bridge was a perfect demonstration of patriotism of each and every person involved with the construction of the bridge from the common labourers to the engineers, the people of the country, irrespective of any party affiliation who were supportive of the project and realized its socio-economic implications quite different from the one-eyed and partisan politicians and a section of civil society members of the country.

With the inauguration of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge on 25 June Bangladesh will step into a new era as it did on 26 March 1971 when it began the War of Liberation to establish its own independent country. The Padma Bridge will remain a symbol of national pride for generations. It has again proved that the people of Bangladesh led by a proper leadership can achieve what may seem impossible to many in the beginning. Someday Sheikh Hasina will not be there to lead the country but the Padma Multipurpose Bridge will speak on her behalf and millions will be witness to her feat now and then.

The writer is an analyst and commentator

Source: Sun Editorial