The biggest state-funded initiative in the history of Bangladesh, the mega dream project – Padma Multipurpose Bridge – has seen the light of day only because of firmness and bravery of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The long timeline of the project actually dates back to 2001 when Sheikh Hasina herself laid the foundation stone of the bridge. Later, after being re-elected in 2009, its official works resumed.
Over the years, the prime minister's firm stance has proved to be a key factor in materialising this much-desired project.
Despite many obstacles, work on the Padma Bridge continues utilising funds raised by the government without involving the conventional donor organisations such as the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), etc.
In 2012, the prime minister officially announced that the project would start with domestic funding.
Sheikh Hasina said in the budget session that year, "We ourselves can start work on the bridge."
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Her remark came in the wake of the World Bank's pulling out of the infrastructure project on 30 June that year, citing corruption concerns. Later on 10 February 2017, a Canada court verdict proved no bribery conspiracy in the Padma Bridge project.
Pointing to the country's response to the cancellation of the World Bank's funding for the Padma Bridge, Sheikh Hasina said in the same session, "The unprecedented response we have received from the people will be a stepping stone in my path."
In her emotional speech, she highlighted the unanimous support from everyone even the younger population saying, "Many school-going students wanted to save their tiffin money and pay for the construction of the Padma Bridge. I am grateful for the support I have received from the people."
"We have won the country through a nine-month battle. The people of Bangladesh do not know how to bow down to anyone. I am optimistic. I am confident," said the prime minister, announcing the construction of the Padma Bridge at the state's own expense.
Mentioning no corruption in the Padma Bridge construction project, the prime minister said, "Everything that has been done in this project has been done in public. The government will also take action if there is evidence of the allegation."
Her words indeed proved to true in 2017 when a Canadian court acquitted three officials of the Canadian construction company SNC-Lavalin Group of the Padma Bridge corruption case.
Earlier in 2014, another investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission found no evidence of corruption attempt, alleged by the World Bank.
The main construction of the bridge started in late November and earlier that year, the prime minister reiterated that the project would be finished utilising the domestic fund.
At a function at the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB) auditorium, she said, "We do not need to depend on anyone else. We will do our own thing with our own money."
In 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina turned down a proposal to name the much-hyped Padma Bridge after her name.
The same year, she revealed that she went for constructing the Padma Bridge with Bangladesh's own resources defying strong opposition from her then finance minister and an adviser.
"My finance minister showed strong dissent. He told me that it [bridge construction] could not be done without the World Bank. My adviser also told me the same," she said in a conference at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.
"I told my minister and adviser: Why will not we go for constructing the bridge with our own resources? If needed, we will change the design but we will do that with our own money, not from others," she added showing resilience.
While spans after spans were being installed throughout the years, the bravery of Sheikh Hasina earned respect from others. In March 2020, she reflected on the turbulent days of the project at a ceremony hosted online.
She said, "The Padma Bridge was a matter of our self-esteem. The decision that we took, that we can do [it] on our own, has enhanced the image of the people of Bangladesh all over the world."
"As you know, the World Bank accused us of corruption before the bridge could be built. I challenged them – there was no corruption. That was proved in a Canadian court. We were utterly disgraced by such an accusation. So I took it as a challenge," she commented while the winnings of that 'challenge' were taking the final shapes on the shore of Padma.
Zoom to 10 December 2020, the country saw the installation of the final span in the 6.15 km bridge, realising the once dreamt project in a glorious manner. None but the prime minister may smile the widest knowing the true price that had been paid by her unflinching commitment to the people.