The editorial of the current News Bulletin (October-December 2020) of the International Chamber of Commerce-Bangladesh (ICCB), released on Sunday, praised the Padma Bridge Project.
"The Padma Bridge, the much awaited dream has come true. It is a great achievement for Bangladesh; 'hats off' to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for showing the development partners and the world that Bangladesh is capable of implementing such a mega project with its own resources," it read.
With the completion of the Padma Bridge, Bangladesh will be connected with many South and Southeast Asian countries. It will contribute immensely to communication, trade, industry, tourism, and many other sectors in various ways. In particular, it will immediately help in having better and faster connectivity with Bhutan, India and Nepal for trade and tourism.
The main structure of the 6.15 kilometre-long Padma Bridge was completed on 10 December, 2020. The double-decker bridge, with road and rail tracks, was estimated to cost around $1.21 billion in 2007 but the cost has increased to $3.86 billion, almost three times higher than the original estimate.
The cost escalation could have been minimised with closer monitoring and timely implementation. The rail link through the bridge is expected to be completed by June 2024, to improve accessibility to Dhaka with central and south western regions of the country. The estimated cost of the Rail Link Project is $4.63 billion and 85% of it will be provided by the Government of The People's Republic of China, through Exim Bank of China, under an agreement.
According to experts, once the bridge is fully operational in June 2022, it will contribute around 1.2% to annual GDP growth, reduce poverty and increase economic activities of the people of the southwest region. It will open up investment in the south and southwestern regions and connect Bangladesh's premier Chattogram Seaport directly with the main land port, Benapole.
The southwest region covers approximately 27% of the country and is home to nearly a quarter of its over 165 million population. But this region has remained one of the least developed parts, primarily due to lack of connectivity with the rest of the country, according to an Asian Development Bangladesh (ADB) study in 2011. "The proportion of the population below the poverty line in the southwest region remains about 5% higher than in the rest of the country," it added.
According to a Japan International Cooperation Agency study, a 10% decrease in travel time to and from Dhaka will lead to a 5.5% increase in district economic output. The benefits of the project will be equivalent to an annual increase of at least 1.7% of southwest region GDP in value and of 0.56% of annual increase of national GDP, according to the World Bank project appraisal document in 2011.
Besides the Padma Bridge, the country is currently implementing a number of mega infrastructure projects like: Dhaka Metro Rail, the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the River Karnaphuli, the Third Terminal of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, and the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge over the River Jamuna, among others.
Bangladesh has been at the centre of initiatives – such as the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement, the BCIM Corridor and the BIMSTEC alliance – which envisage greater market access and create an enabling environment for rapid economic development.
In order to promote trade, Bangladesh needs to join the United Nations Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under the Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention, 1975). In recent years, a number of countries – including China, India and Pakistan – have joined the TIR Convention, and with the completion of the Padma Bridge, the TIR system will help further enhance regional integration in South Asia and facilitate Bangladesh's access to global markets.
Bangladesh is set to achieve its vision of reaching middle-income status by its 50th birthday on 16 December, 2021. Appropriate infrastructure is the element to sustain the development momentum.
"Therefore, as desired by the prime minister, all the concerned agencies must work in concert to complete the on-going, as well as future, mega infrastructure projects as per the schedule. In such a situation, Bangladesh's journey as a developing economy will be more robust; belying apprehension of some quarters. Godspeed Bangladesh!" stated the ICCB press release.