The inauguration of the Padma Bridge on June 25, 2022 is the most important event in Bangladesh’s development calendar after independence. There is saturation coverage of the event by the global media which proves that it is not merely a bridge and the inauguration is not just the official opening. The Padma Bridge is more than a structure built over a river and the inauguration is more than the start of the passenger and freight transportation services. It heralds a new era of development in Bangladesh as the country attains 50, and is poised to head towards the status of a developed country within a period of time stipulated in its many development plans.
It is really an amazing fact that at long last the bridge has come into view putting an end to all spiteful rumours, discouragements and despair; blithely ignoring all nasty naysayers; and defying all overwhelming odds and obstacles. Connecting both sides of the mighty Padma, the long body (6.15-kilometre) of the double-layer steel truss bridge stands visible to the naked eye like a metallic python gliding over the strong currents of the river. The longest ever rail-road bridge on the continent of Asia and the 25th longest and one of the very few special bridges in the world, now exists in Bangladesh. All eyes are now on this brilliant feat of engineering. The dogs barked but the caravan moved on and reached the destination. Neither the annoying detractors nor the unrelenting onslaught of corona contagion could put a stop to the inevitable. This is no mean feat.
A joy shared is a joy doubled. This is a victory within many victories. It was really a long-cherished dream of the people of riverine Bangladesh to build a gigantic bridge on the mighty river Padma to connect the capital with the southern part of the country. Bangabandhu also dreamt of a number of multipurpose bridges in the country during his term in office but he could not fulfil the dream for he had to meet a tragic and untimely death falling victim to a dastardly assassination plot only three and a half years after his assumption of power. Later the building of Bangabandhu Bridge alias Jamuna Bridge and the public utilities created by it necessitated building the Padma Bridge. And the onus was on Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter Sheikh Hasina whose visionary leadership has worked miracles for the nation.
No sooner had the mega project of the ‘Padma Multipurpose Bridge’ aka ‘the Dream Bridge’ of Bangladesh begun, people experienced a major stumbling block as the donor consortium— the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Islamic Development Bank quite preposterously withdrew themselves from financing the project due to alleged charges of corruption conspiracy which later proved completely baseless and the trial resulted in an acquittal at an Ontario Superior Court.
The accused, including the ex-Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain, had pleaded not guilty. And it was revealed what worked at the back of the World Bank’s mind. It is learnt from reliable sources that they wanted China Railway Construction Company (CRCC) to win the contract of the bridge construction in the competitive tender. Though CRCC was given a second chance by the bridge authority to go for pre-qualification at the repeated request of the World Bank, they could not finally qualify for obvious reasons. The CRCC sent data and pictures in which the design advisory and evaluation committee found major inconsistencies. They were disqualified for forging documents and for their inability to do raking piling of big bridges. However, the then president of the World Bank Robert Bruce Zoellick later apologised for their loan-game with the Padma Bridge.
Sheikh Hasina, as the prime minister, did not accept this national ignominy lying down and vehemently resented World Bank’s highhanded manner and big-brotherly attitude. She rose to the occasion and gave voice to the domineering outlook of the donor consortium. To her utter disappointment with their holier-than-thou attitude, Sheikh Hasina brushed aside the fake corruption charge and took up the challenge. She took back the credit application and declared against the beggar mentality and urged her people to stand on their own feet. And there were planted the seeds of our self-confidence which has finally given birth to today’s Padma Bridge.
Not only global players did conspire against the construction of the Padma Bridge, a bunch of local morons also plotted to hinder its construction. Some eggheads living in the ivory towers cast aspersions on the Padma Bridge construction drive especially when Sheikh Hasina, after the World Bank withdrew from financing the project, vowed to build the bridge on her own initiative. They blasted Hasina’s vows as ‘a crazy idea’ and held her up to ridicule. Sheikh Hasina swallowed all their remarks and answered them back by working wonders.
The successful completion of the construction of Padma Bridge bears the testimony to Bangladesh’s capability to set up similar or bigger ambitious projects and gracefully complete them. It has also got the message across to the people of the country that the ongoing construction of the much-hyped Dhaka Metro Rail, the multi-lane Karnaphuli Tunnel, the first underwater road network in South-Asia, the Port of Payra and many other mega projects will most assuredly be completed within the stipulated time. This is how Bangladesh will showcase all these astonishing achievements to mark the Golden Jubilee of its Independence.
Much to the delight of the nation, the most challenging construction project in the country’s history – the much anticipated and long-awaited Padma Bridge – has been successfully materialised. The person who made the impossible possible is none other than Sheikh Hasina. Nothing daunted, she ventured into the largest ever construction work which could have been make-or-break time for the project due to the World Bank’s graft hoax. If she had not handled the situation masterfully, there could have been a lot of stigma attached to the Padma Bridge construction and her critics would smell out a scandal in it. But Hasina rescued the project, her government and the country as well from an embarrassing situation. She had the guts to defy the World Bank’s credit embargo, fight legal battle against the big boys, and manage to build the bridge all by herself with the country’s own resources. The magnificent bridge is, on one hand, a symbol of the nation’s pride and joy and an act of the premier’s skill and bravery on the other. It also bears the stamp of the nation’s self-respect, dignity and economic independence. Sheikh Hasina, the country’s paramount leader at the moment, is the sole responsibility for the project and it is the finest feather in her cap.
People of Bangladesh enthusiastically proposed that the Padma Bridge should be named after the name of Sheikh Hasina. But Hasina did not agree with them about it. She wants the Padma Bridge to go by the name of “Padma Bridge” because she, quite justifiably, wants that everything revolving around the construction of the bridge, from A to Z, should go down in the annals of Bangladesh’s history of development. How she dared to build the bridge over a river which is one of the two in the world with strongest currents; how conspiracies were hatched to bring it to a grinding halt; how she fought the battle of wills relying on the public support; and finally how the bridge is being heralded as a blueprint for the future of transport in Bangladesh and beyond. As long as the bridge stands sentinel over the river, the name ‘Padma Bridge’ can better communicate all this to people. And Sheikh Hasina’s name will be inscribed in the hearts and minds of people.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist, translator, educationist, media personality and the former Vice Chancellor of Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]