Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the present Awami League (AL) government started its journey in 2008 with a vision to establish a Digital Bangladesh by 2021. To attain the objectives, the government worked hard for the last one decade. Due to the credible leadership of the Prime Minister, the country has achieved tremendous success in the digital eras and remarkable success in the economic and social indicators. The government has shown its credibility in implementing different mega projects in the last decade. It has also gained recognition for attaining around seven per cent GDP consecutively for the last few years. These attainments are indicators of showcasing the level of development the government has achieved in the last decade. The solid foundation of the economy due to adroit economic management and dedicated political leadership has helped the country gain recommendation to enter into the list of developing countries by 2024.
Such tremendous success in different sectors has helped our Prime Minister dream bigger, keeping in mind the Father of the Nation-Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s dream of establishing a poverty-free Bangladesh by ensuring social and economic justice for all. Therefore, the government has aspired to adopt Vision 2041 in continuation of the Digital Bangladesh and Vision 2021 so that the dreams of Bangabandhu may become a reality. Vision 2041 aims to attain development, eliminate extreme poverty, and attain an Upper Middle-Income Country (UMIC) status by 2031 and a high-income country (HIC) by 2041. With this vision in mind, the government adopted a plan entitled “Making Vision 2041 a Reality: Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2021-2041 (PP2041” to ensure success of PP2021 and continue the good practices of the current development path. The main intention of this write-up is to shed light on the government's efforts in carrying out massive infrastructural development in road communication and transport and how these projects will help attain the vision 2041.
One such initiative was the Padma Bridge project that cost TK. 39,247CR. Once upon a time, the people of Bangladesh could not even imagine having a bridge on the river Padma. However, a visionary leader like Sheikh Hasina understood long ago the importance of how much the Padma Bridge will facilitate the connectivity of the southern part of Bangladesh with Dhaka and the rest of the country. To materialise this, to turn the dream into reality, the government signed an agreement with the World Bank to finance this mega project. However, the decision to withdraw funding in the Padma Bridge project on a fake corruption allegation by the World Bank broke the hearts of millions of compatriots who could not believe that the project could be built without the World Bank’s financial or technical assistance.
However, one person stood firmly on her decision to build the bridge with internal funds. When she expressed her commitment to making the bridge with internal resources, many, including the then opposition leader, criticised the government’s credibility in carrying out such a mammoth development task without the support of the World Bank. Our Prime Minister has proved that where there is a will, there is a way, which is like a slap on the faces of those who said it cannot be done, as the Padma Bridge is no longer a dream, now it has become a reality. Once it reaches completion, the government has decided to open it for the public next year.
A pertinent question is - what is the impact of the Padma Bridge on the economy, trade and finally, the attainment of the vision 2041? By building the mega projects, the government has proved its spending capacity, which will have a consequential impact on the GDP. The bridge will increase ease of connectivity between the people residing in the Southern part, including Jessore, Sathkhira and Khulna with Dhaka and the rest of the country. The farmers of these regions can send their products to different parts of the country quickly. Most importantly, many saltwater fishes produced in this region will be made available all over the country. The people living in the Eastern Zone will be able to get connected with the Mongla Port very quickly, which will strengthen the regional connectivity. The increasing internal and regional connectivity will allow the government to earn enormous duties in domestic and foreign currencies. Even the road connectivity with various parts of India will be strengthened. The improved connectivity will certainly positively impact the trade and business that will foster the attainment of the PP Vision 2041.
The government has also implemented mega projects like the Metro Rail (MTR-1: worth-TK. 52561 crore, MTR-2: worth-TK. 41,239 crore and MRT-3: worth-TK.23490 crore), and Karnafuli Tunnel project (worth-TK. 10,374 crore) (an underwater tunnel under the Karnafuli River). Implementation of the Dhaka Metro Rail is nearing completion, which will improve the transportation system in Dhaka. Presently, the excessive traffic jam has paralysed the life of the people living in Dhaka. It has also negatively impacted trade and business as it takes a long time to send produced goods to Chittagong Port and other parts of the country. The cost of transportation also increases quite heavily which also create pressure on the producers. The opening of the metro rail will allow the massive movement of people in these routes that will reduce the traffic jam on the road facilitating the free movement of the trucks and covered vans distributing the products to different parts of the country, including the ports for export. Lowering transportation costs and timely delivery of the goods will allow the producers to sell their products at a low price and attract more external buyers. As a result, we will earn more foreign currency than what we are making now. This will positively impact the government spending capacity and help attain the vision 2041 too.
Apart from these mega projects, the government has been implementing hundreds of giant infrastructural projects. There has been a revolution in road transportation throughout the country due to the massive intervention of the present government in these sectors. The expansion of roads has expedited the easy transit of vehicles throughout the country. This has facilitated the movement of different goods produced in different parts of the country to other regions. Most importantly, the marketing of various products has become easier, allowing the producers and farmers to earn more money than a decade ago when the farmers received a tiny amount of money from the products that the middlemen mostly capitalised on. The free flow of money helps the economy become stronger, which will ultimately benefit the country to become a developed country by 2041.
The government’s decision to invest a huge amount of money in the energy sector has brought a revolution in the country’s production of power and energy. When the government retained power in 2009, the country could produce only less than 4000 watts of electricity. However, our Prime Minister’s massive investment and visionary leadership have shown our credibility to produce more than 10,000 watts of electricity per day. Excessive production has expedited the production capacity of mills and factories throughout the country. A decade ago, we could not ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity in the Millis and Factories that negatively impacted the productivity of the Mills and Factories.
However, the installation of several quick rentals and other power stations, including the nuclear power station in Rooppur and reconstruction of existing power stations, has changed the country’s whole power sector scenario. The government has even imported electricity from different neighbouring countries, which shows the government’s credibility in this sector. Apart from ensuring a supply of uninterrupted electricity in Mills and Factories, the government has assured the continuous supply of electricity at the household level throughout the country. More than 93 per cent of households are coming under the coverage of electricity across the country. To make it happen, the government has to implement several projects each over TK. 10,000 crore. These include Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (TK. 1,13,093 crore), Matarbari Coal Power Plan (TK. 35,984 crore), Expansion and Strengthening of Power System Network under DPDC Area (TK. 20,468 crore), Power Grid Network Strengthening project under PGCB (TK. 14,326CR), Infrastructure Development for Power Evacuation Facilities of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plan (TK. 10,982 crore),
Despite tremendous efforts being invested by the government, some challenges in the infrastructure sector require the government’s immediate attention. For instance, total spending on infrastructure needs to be increased by at least at 7 per cent of GDP, presently around 4-5 per cent of the GDP. There is a major concern over the issue of primary energy due to the diminishing gas reserves. We could strengthen our coal-based resource as an alternative energy source, and it is not a good idea to emphasise on the import of coal and LNG to meet the demands of energy. There are some issues relating to the implementation of transport-related projects timely. Even the government has paid little attention to developing low-cost inland water transport, which is cost-effective. Though the government is nearing the completion of the Metro Rail Projects in Dhaka, the urban traffic congestion, especially in Dhaka, has become terrifying.
To overcome these problems, the government could consider adopting a comprehensive infrastructure financing strategy that requires a combination of tax funding, public-private partnership (PPP), and cost recovery policies based on the beneficiary pays principle (BPP). Of course, the government is encouraging PPP and BPP, but they have yet to receive enough investment under these schemes. The government could also consider developing a long-term primary energy supply policy. It includes a comprehensive domestic policy for coal, ensuring prominence in the environment, resettlement and safety in association with the NGOs and affected population. The PPP financing could be invited in this sector. The government should also pay attention to producing renewable energy from wind and solar. An intermodal transport network is required to be developed for ensuring efficient transport flows. As we are losing our land for transportation, we must develop inland water transport (IWT) and railways. Of course, the government is paying much attention to the expansion of rail connectivity across the country; however, more attention is required as it is less costly than road transport. The development of rail connectivity will encourage business communities to carry their products through rails as it does not face traffic jams like road transport. It helps the producers reach destination within a reasonable time.
The government must also consider strengthening its capacity to complete different road infrastructure development projects. It goes without saying that there has been tremendous development concerning the increasing capability of the implementing agencies due to the introduction of strong monitoring; still, most of the projects could not get completed within the stipulated times, facilitating an increase in the total cost of the project. Since the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) is the only dedicated organisation to monitor all development projects in the country, and it suffers from inadequate human resources and funds. Therefore, along with strengthening IMED, the departmental monitoring and evaluation of projects must be strengthened to ensure timely implementation of various infrastructure-related projects. The government should also pay attention to formulating and implementing a well-organised urban sector transport strategy. In most cities, infrastructure development is taking place in an isolated manner. Different bodies are implementing various projects without consulting each other, creating problems of coordination and the sufferings of the citizens. A well-coordinated urban sector transit strategy will help overcome these problems.
The last decade has been dubbed as a decade of development for Bangladesh by many international actors. The developed world leaders often ask our Prime minister how she could attain such growth in a decade in a country that once was considered a bottomless basket. Our Prime Minister always says that if someone loves the countrymen and has the dedication, any impossible goal can be attained. Bangladesh is a classic example in this regard. With a serious commitment to fulfil the Father of the Nation’s unfulfilled dream of establishing Sonar Bangla, Sheikh Hasina has been working tirelessly to take Bangladesh to the next level of development.
To become a citizen of a developing country is a matter of time only for the citizens. We strongly believe that how the government has set the goals of entering into developed countries’ list is on the right track. Implementing massive infrastructure development projects will positively help in the attainment of this goal. We live in a globalised world where the importance of infrastructure, roads, and transportation is immense for the country’s development. Of course, we have some challenges. But by adopting the above reforms to strengthen the infrastructure development would help us attain Vision 2041.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.