Friday, 12 August, 2022

Independence, Digital Bangladesh and Padma Bridge: Legacy of Bangabandhu

Dr Md Aktaruzzaman

Independence, Digital Bangladesh and Padma Bridge: Legacy of Bangabandhu
Dr Md Aktaruzzaman

This year in May-June while visiting the United States I was lucky enough to attend the Golden Jubilee Bangladesh Concert on 6 May at the historic Madison Square Garden in New York. The national anthem of Bangladesh was played at the main stage in the presence of ICT Adviser to the Prime Minister and thousands of audiences across the world. I was then literally crying remembering our long-cherished independence led by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as well as the massive transformation of Bangladesh particularly over the last decade led by Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in many different aspects.

Our hard-earned independence was not achieved in a single specific year or by a sudden declaration but rather we have to trace back to a series of events that took place over the period of more than two decades. Since the very beginning of Pakistan, the West started to nullify hopes and aspirations of Bengalis, discriminate in every sphere and do oppressions and atrocities. As a result, a series of events took place which include but not limited to the formation of Awami Muslim League on 23 June 1949, historic language movement on 21 February 1952, start of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in 1958, Bangabandhu’s six point movement on 7 June 1966, mass uprising in East Pakistan in 1969 and end of a dictator, national election in 1970 and denial of handing over power to the majority party leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, historic speech of Bangabandhu on 7 March 1971, operation Search Light on 25 March 1971 by the brutal Pakistani Army, Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence in the midnight of 25-26 March, start of nine-month liberation war and finally got independence on 16 December 1971 at the cost of 30 Lakh martyrs and 2-4 Lakh raped women during the genocide, regarded as the largest since the Holocaust during World War II.

Bangabandhu dreamt of ‘Sonar Bangla’— a hunger and corruption free, knowledge-based, technology-reliant and prosperous Bangladesh. Under his able leadership Bangladesh established University Grants Commission (UGC) in its very first Victory Day in 1972 which started operations in 1973; became a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on 5 September 1973; joined as a full member of the OIC and UN on 22 February and 17 September 1974 respectively; etc. Bangabandhu initially thought of a bridge on the Jamuna River considering the famine-affected North Bengal but the Padma Bridge was also in his plan in the long run. Many visionary initiatives were taken during his government, but he was not given enough time to materialise his dreams.

In the dark night of 15 August 1975 Bangabandhu and his family members were brutally killed – anti-independence evil forces were rose to power, war criminals and their collaborators were empowered nationally, progress and development were halted and apparently our long-cherished independence and its benefits were ended with a tragedy. In 1996, the situation was dramatically changed through a free and fair election and the Awami League government came into power after 21 years. From 1996 to 2001, the worthy daughter of Bangabandhu Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina converted the sprouted seeds sowed by his father into saplings. But her government did not get enough time to complete many visionary initiatives and again progress and development were halted for next 7-8 years. 

In 2009 the Awami League government came into power again and envisioned Digital Bangladesh. Bearing the same philosophy of Bangabandhu but in a digital world, his dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’ has been transformed as ‘Digital Bangladesh’ under the visionary leadership of the prime minister of Bangladesh and her ICT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy and it is now progressing towards ‘Smart and Developed Bangladesh’ in 2041. The government has implemented Vision 2021 and heading towards achieving Vision 2030, Vision 2041, Vision 2071, and Delta Plan 2100 to reach the status of a safe, developed and innovative country.

Bangabandhu sowed the seeds of Digital Bangladesh by becoming ITU member and setting up a satellite ground station at Betbunia while standing on the ruins of war in a newly independent country. During the current government, Bangabandhu Satellite-1, country’s first geostationary communications and broadcasting satellite, was launched on 12 May 2018 by SpaceX in order to ensure modern space and telecommunication services to the world. The implementation of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ in the last 13 years has developed huge ICT infrastructure all over the country, almost in every sector as well as in everyday life of the people. Union Digital Centres (UDC) are now being connected through fibre optical cable; schools are now equipped with Sheikh Rasel Digital Lab; thousands of interactive contents and e-books are designed and developed; 100 economic zones are being created, and so on. The government did massive transformation of its public services into digital ones to reach the door steps of people through a range of initiatives including but not limited to online e-passport, online police clearance,, e-nothi, Muktopaath, Kishor Batayan, ShikkhokBatayan, 333 for support, ekpay, digital centre, NISE3, Surokkha App,, etc. Thus, Digital Bangladesh has created an appropriate platform to kick off Smart Bangladesh in 2041.

The Padma Bridge is not only a bridge for us but it is a symbol of our pride and dignity to the world. It was not easy but the courageous leadership and firm determination of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina enabled us to build the Padma Bridge with self-financing. Due to the alleged corruption involved in the project, the World Bank and other donor agencies withdrew their financing though later Canadian Court gave verdict that there were no corruptions involved. Like Bangabandhu, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina never compromised with injustice. The impressive economic growth over the last decade during the Awami League government even at the global turmoil of Covid-19 laid the foundation to self-finance this mega project. Bangladesh's per capita income rose by $327 in fiscal 2020-21 to $2,554. The government has set a target of 7.5 per cent GDP growth in the upcoming fiscal year of 2022-23. Despite many unexpected events and propaganda, the project has been inaugurated on 25 June 2022. It is expected to greatly contribute to the socio-economic development of Bangladesh by adding 1.23 per cent growth in the GDP and reducing poverty by 0.84 per cent annually.

The Padma Bridge is a multipurpose road-rail bridge and the largest in Bangladesh. It will connect 21 south-west districts of the country to rest of the country. On 18 September 1998, Padma project was proposed and a plan was adopted in 2007. The Bangladesh Bridge Authority invited the pre-qualification tender for the project in April 2010 but the construction was delayed due to the alleged corruption and withdrawal of financing by the World Bank and other donor agencies in 2011. The government then decided to fund the project and construction started on 26 November 2014 by China Major Bridge Engineering Co Ltd and ended on 23 June 2022. Its total length is 6.15 km, width 18.18 m, height 120 m, no. of spans 41and no. of lanes 4. Due to the stream nature of the Padma, world’s most sophisticated technologies are used to construct the bridge and cost stands finally at $3.6 billion.

The Padma Bridge brightens Bangladesh's image as a bold nation and his daughter and grandson take Bangabandhu's legacy to global stage through the Padma Bridge and Digital Bangladesh – two biggest milestones in independent Bangladesh. Let’s pay deep tributes and regards to the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, for whom we got an independent sovereign Bangladesh, his worthy daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ICT Adviser for their tireless efforts of transforming the country into a developed and prosperous nation. Special thanks to country’s renowned expert Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, then communication minister and secretary, and all the respected individuals involved in the Padma Bridge project lest we forget!


The writer is the Director of BLC at Daffodil International University