Tuesday, 16 August, 2022

Straight Talk

Inauguration of Padma Bridge - Dawn of a New Era

Abdul Mannan

Braving all odds, obstacles and national and international conspiracies, finally the Padma Bridge has been inaugurated just a week back, on 25 June for public use by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the person who dreamt and made the dream a reality. This was the beginning of a new era for Bangladesh which happened under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina as did the emergence of Bangladesh under the leadership of her illustrious father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Such a feat has few match in history of nations. What is extraordinary was – this is the first time in the history of Bangladesh that such a mega project, that too a river bridge on one of the most difficult rivers, Padma,  was built by Bangladesh on its own. The other extraordinary achievement that Bangladesh can be proud of is that the Bridge was built by engineering talents, most of whom were from Bangladesh, though necessary advices were taken from experts from other countries. People from approximately twenty different countries were involved in this project and the total number of technical people including engineers involved were seven thousand and the thirteen thousand labourers put in their labour to put the bridge from drawing board to reality. By any definition this was not an easy feat as new engineering challenges evolved when the project was under way. The Bridge also needed some unique equipment which were never used before. The world’s largest and strongest hammer had to be custom made in Germany and carried on a special vessel to Bangladesh. The hammer weighted 3,000 kilograms (40 tonnes) and had to be used on few pillars that needed special engineering skill. The bearing that can withstand an earthquake measuring upto 9 in the Richter magnitude scale was specially made in USA while the cement used for the pilling came from Australia. The spans were pre-fabricated in China and had to be lifted on the bridge with a heavy crane to be installed in-between the pillars. If maintained properly the Bridge is expected to last at least one hundred years.

Dr. Aiunun Nishat, the lead engineer in managing the river flow of the Padma Bridge, worked with few fellow consultants from different countries as well. Dr. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury the extraordinary engineer who let the International Team of experts could unite the talents of the most respected and talented engineers from home and abroad. Unfortunately he could not see his dream finally see the light of the day. He was one of the earliest casualties of Covid-19. After the inauguration of the Bridge it was acclaimed as one of the major engineering marvels of 21st century of the world  that could be included into the engineering curriculum of other countries. The Bridge has also been identified to serve as a learning project for students in engineering not only in Bangladesh but also for students across the world. The only exception who could not take the achievement of the present government vis-à-vis the execution of Padma Bridge project were few senior people in the BNP camp. Surprisingly few even spoke on  different TV channels and tried to befool the viewers what is so great about Padma Bridge that it needs to be hyped in such a big manner?  The party Secretary General even went a step further to make a ghost discovery that their leader Begum Zia laid the foundation of the Bridge on both sides of the river when she was in power which later on was proven not only to be a naïve statement but also an attempt to befool the people, not realizing that people in the age of information era are not as fool as they would like to think. Another person who holds an important position in the party told the TV viewers he was more interested in the perceived  ‘corruption’ involving the Padma Bridge rather than Bridge itself.  Those who are in the foray of discovering all sorts of assumed corruption in this project do not realize that the original Padma Bridge project did not include the rail-link which  has now become part of the bridge and the Padma bridge is now being  termed as Padma Multipurpose Bridge. Thousands of families dislocated from their lands had to be rehabilitated and compensated by the government besides constructing few kilometres of approach roads.  The Bridge will also be used to link the other side of the Bridge with power, fibre optic cable and gas connection. The rail-link is jointly financed by Bangladesh and China and is being executed by the Ministry of Railways and is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early next year.

Soon after the inauguration of the Bridge a number of unusual and unwarranted incidents have happened that have marred the image of the people of the country and exposed  the  mismanagement of the facility by the bridge authority. They perhaps could not imagine people could be so reckless and irresponsible while using the facility.  People in thousands thronged the bridge disregarding all sorts of safety of their own and of others. Some even made idiotic behaviour by urinating on the bridge while overzealous people found the Bridge to be a sacred place to say their prayers. A couple of smartly dressed ladies who mistakenly thought they were reincarnation of the  celebrated Bangla film star of yester years Suchitra Sen made smart short cell phone movies  on the Bridge.  A motor biker who assumed he could do stunts on the Bridge entrusted his friend riding with him to make a ‘tiktok’ movie which finally made both find their lasting place in the graveyard, killed in an inevitable and unfortunate accident. A young man who took upon himself the responsibility of checking the quality of making of the bridge, even had the audacity to forcefully open couple of nuts and bolts attaching the decorative steel railing with the main concrete railing of the bridge. Three BRTC, the government bus service, not to be left behind, smashed into three toll plaza barriers breaking them into pieces. It seems if given a chance there are people waiting to try to tear the bridge apart to prove their stupidity.

If not careful from the very beginning,  those  irresponsible individuals may take it as a  license for doing all such stupid acts and damage some of the basic features and the structure  of the bridge. To begin with first, the governments  should constitute a special authority to look after the security of bridge and other related matters. From my experiences of travelling in many different countries over the last four decades I have seen in many countries no one is allowed to stop on the bridge at any time except for emergency reasons. To make sure that such a decision is executed, interconnected cameras are installed at strategic points on such bridges and on approach roads. If any vehicle stops baring emergency, a fine should be assessed for every fifteen minutes standing on the designated areas, including the bridge. In Australia there are certain such key installations where someone is passing by it in a car on any sort of vehicle, their cell phone immediately becomes inoperative. In case of emergency there are emergency call boxes and the vehicles had to be pulled on the designated shoulder of the road.

Such a decision should be made for any sort of key installations in Bangladesh too. If people get into the habit of not respecting the law, it must be forced upon them. Some people even have the habit of not paying the toll at different toll plazas. Such a habit can be seen amongst politicians, government officials and local mastans. This should be immediately stopped through a public announcement. If necessary only the President and the Prime Minister may be exempted from payment of tolls. But as a  good gesture the Prime Minister paid the first toll on the day of inauguration. The decision not to allow motorcycles on the bridge is a good choice. However, the bridge authorities may think of dedicating a lane on each side of the bridge for the bikers but the bikers, once on the bridge, should be strictly monitored.

Though the Padma Bridge is made during the rule of Sheikh Hasina, it must be remembered it is not the property of any person or a political party. It is a national property. Only the courage, determination, vision and quality of leadership of Sheikh Hasina made the construction of the bridge possible when the World Bank withdrew their funding under some mysterious corruption bogey. It was a magnanimous move by Sheikh Hasina that she refused to name the bridge after her. But people in this country will always remember Sheikh Hasina for years to come not only for making the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project become a reality but also giving  the nation a new identity. Human lives are short but their deeds live forever. Let good sense prevail; each and everyone who crosses this or any other bridge or even other installations in the country have to show that they are responsible citizens of this country irrespective political beliefs or faiths. There is a Russian proverb which says those who have a habit of barking will keep on barking but the caravan will march on.


The writer is an analyst and a commentator. Writes from Honolulu, Hawaii