From time immemorial, we Bangladeshis have tied our umbilical cord to our rivers. Our livelihood, transportation, agriculture, industry, economy, consciousness, culture - are all fluvial.
It can be said that rivers were the sole bridging point between our social and commercial relationship. Rivers are such an entity in the life of a Bangali that they got honed into the innermost cognition of our blood vessels for ages.
Whenever we had been tested by the crisis of existence and the necessity of self-introduction, our rivers surged through our consciousness and kept vigilance like a sibling.
During the Liberation War, in the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis, one fiery, revolutionary slogan was engraved – "Tomar Amar Thikana! Padma, Meghna, Jamuna!". We realised that our destination was Padma, Meghna, and Jamuna; our only hallmark was – "This struggle is for our freedom, this struggle is for our independence."
At that time, millions of Bangalis plunged into the war against our enemies with their lives at stake, responding to the call made by the greatest Bangali of all time - Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. With their sacrifice, we obtained an independent country - Bangladesh, riverine Bangladesh.
For the Mujib Birth Centenary and Golden Jubilee of Independence, we vowed that Bangladesh would stand tall in the World Map with her head held high. We can state with pride and dignity, Bangladesh indeed stands up right now.
Once upon a time, for constructing a road, a small bridge or even a culvert, foreign assistance was required. But now Bangladesh is building the Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant. The Payra Deep Seaport is also being constructed. On top of that, 91% of the Padma Bridge has been completed.
Now the whole world can witness Bangladesh through all these various development projects. To take Bangladesh to such a lofty height, the person whose contribution is immense is the honourable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.
Currently, public healthcare service in Bangladesh has improved and at the same time, medical facilities have reached the doorsteps of Bangladeshi people. People no longer die without treatment. There is no shortage of food nor clothes. Helpless, vagabond people are being given shelter; homeless people are being given houses for free. Free books are being distributed to the students of all educational institutions up to the secondary level.
No child will remain without education, no human being will remain homeless – this is our oath. It has been possible to advance gradually to this state of infinite possibilities because of the appropriate leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Many governments were formed before her government, but they only filled the office and left. But they did nothing for the public. They repeatedly looted our country's wealth, jested with people's fate, and turned the country into a centre for corruption. They tried to disable the youth by creating a chain of drugs, terrorism and degenerate culture. With ardent efforts put forth by the present government, Bangladesh has now made an about-turn from its previous wretched condition.
While the whole world was plagued by the Covid-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, alongside the 16 crores of people in Bangladesh, fought against the coronavirus with patience, diligence, and prudence.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh along with the entire world has been facing a time of harsh reality. Since March 2020, we have been living in a different milieu. The civil society anticipated that the lives of thousands and millions of our densely populated country would be endangered; a possibility of turmoil in the economic, social, education and health system would arise and the entire system of Bangladesh might go downhill.
Because of the visionary leadership of the Prime Minister, it has been possible to handle this impending catastrophic situation. We have been able to show the world how with a qualified leader a nation can tackle a calamity successfully. Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has described Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as an outstanding inspirational female leader for her incredible leadership quality.
Patricia had named three 'phenomenal women leaders and deeply inspiring' prime ministers from the countries under the Commonwealth, and they were Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand; Mia Amor Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados and Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
She referred to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, as a remarkable one among the three. Besides, as an acknowledgement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has congratulated the Prime Minister for handling the covid pandemic situation well. By this time, corona vaccines have arrived in the country and a vaccination programme has begun; to protect everyone, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared free vaccines for every citizen.
Bangladesh is a developing country now. Despite the ongoing pandemic crisis, Bangladesh has achieved a foreign reserve of $43 billion. GDP per capita income has surpassed $2000. Hopefully, by 2041, Bangladesh will have reached the status of a developed one under the leadership of PM Sheikh Hasina.
Many challenges created an impediment to the development of the country. We have been successful in vanquishing all challenges with the guidance of the Prime Minister. The government is implementing important megaprojects with self-financed endorsement.
Today people of the country assert with pride – the Padma Bridge is being built with our own money. With the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister, Bangladesh has joined the nuclear club by constructing the Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant.
For the first time, Bangabandhu Underwater Expressway Tunnel is going to be built under the Karnaphuli River. Previously there was no highway; now the city transit system is being radically altered with the construction of a modern elevated expressway, metro railway and so on. Furthermore, an extensive direct railway line is under construction from Chattogram to Ghumdhum, Cox's Bazar.
With the ingenious and sagacious leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are going to be bestowed an up-to-date developed Bangladesh. The activities of the Prime Minister are not only being praised in the domestic land; rather being applauded all over the world. In the arena of development, she is now a 'role model' to the world. Bangladesh will step into a developed country with her leadership skill before 2041 – it is all of our hope.
In the naval and marine frontiers of the country, there are endless potentials for advancement. By utilising those possibilities with expert hands, we have to lead the country ahead. The development of the Padma Bridge and the Payra Seaport will gradually benefit each citizen of the country directly and indirectly. Cerulean marine resources will be conducive to the domestic economic growth of Bangladesh. Our coastal riches will play the most important role to metamorphose us into a developed country by 2041.
However, we can never progress forsaking the ideals of Bangabandhu. After the contribution made by Bangabandhu for three and a half years during his prime ministerial service, no one else bequeathed anything to Bangladesh. Bangladesh took a path of regression.
During Bangabandhu's time, the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation began its journey with 19 ships. By 2010, the number decreased to two ships. But instead, there should have been hundreds of ships by that time. Bangladesh walked backwards, that's why from 19 ships, the figure tumbled down to only 2.
With the leadership of the Deshratna (Gem of the Country), the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation has taken a U-turn again. Bangladesh did not have a deep-water pier, but at present, a deep harbour is being built at Matarbari in Cox's Bazar at an estimated cost of 17,000 crore takas. The Payra Haven is visible today. Ships from different countries are anchoring at the Mongla Port. This way, Bangladesh is making progress in all aspects.
We are in the Mujib Millennium and about to embark on the Golden Jubilee of Independence. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emboldened the people of Bengal. She has opened Bangladesh to the world. Not only the maritime boundary, we are also striving to bring the whole world within our grasp. The expedition will be a long one. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is leading the maritime sector forward to reach that goal.
For the economic development of our riverine Bangladesh, the role of the shipping belt is important. Considering the importance of rivers for the development of agriculture, fisheries, trade and commerce, and communication, a holistic and integrated programme has been launched to protect rivers.
Different river ports have been modernised and renovated. To build an epoch-making, modern and eco-friendly aquamarine port, suitable for the twenty-first century, the third-largest seaport in the country, the Payra Deep Seaport is being constructed in Patuakhali to meet the increasing demand of import-export. By 2023, the Payra port will be furnished as a world-class up-to-date harbour.
To excavate waterways, 34 dredger machines have been acquired and to manage ferry-crossing properly, 17 ferries have been built. More dredgers for excavation are going to be collected and capital dredging work is going on. Necessary initiatives have been taken for the excavation programme of 10,000 kilometres of waterways, eviction of grabbers of river banks and to bring back the navigability of the rivers. To ensure and enhance the navigability of rivers and to prevent occupation and pollution, the National River Conservation Commission has been formed. An Inland Container Terminal has been built at Pangaon. Implementation of different large-scale activities has been made to create mobility in Chattogram and Mongla ports, and a plan for establishing a bay-terminal in Chattogram is underway. To develop human resources in the maritime sector, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University and four new marine academies have been founded in Sylhet, Rangpur, Barishal and Pabna. Steps have been taken to modernise and renovate the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, and six ships have been acquired; further acquisition of another 6 ships is going to be made. For sailors who work on foreign ships a procedure of providing machine-readable identity papers 'ID Card' is being operated. A venture for the development of ten new land ports including Benapole Land Port is going on.
The Prime Minister of a war-torn, newly liberated country Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made Bangladesh shine wherever he went on this planet. Today we can dream because of the political philosophy of Bangabandhu. At this moment ours is a middle-income country, on the way to be a developed one – it has been possible to realise the dreams of Bangabandhu.
If we can retain Bangabandhu each moment of every day, only then we shall march forward. From 1949 to 2021, the Awami League has been into politics to establish the rights of the people of this land. Whenever this party has taken the responsibility to administer the country, people have achieved something. Behind every country's progress, there is politics. If that politics is for honesty, righteousness and patriotism, the country cannot lag. Bangabandhu struggled for 24 years with an honest and upright aim in view. For this reason, he could emancipate a country.
The worthy daughter of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Hasina is running the country with transparency and devotion. On the other hand, a profound conspiracy is being plotted against Bangladesh. Even plots against our patriotic army are being framed. The Bangladesh Army has been continuously playing a gigantic role in the development of Bangladesh and for world peace.
Nonetheless, a deep conspiracy is going on to sabotage the army by making its contribution questionable. When with the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister, Bangladesh has reached a prestigious position of a free democratic country, the economy of Bangladesh has become a matter of pride, at that moment an attempt to create an arena of conspiracy in the international hemisphere is being made to set back its progress. We must remain extremely vigilant against these anti-national schemes.
Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury is in Charge of the Ministry of Shipping as The State Minister.
Sheikh Masud Kamal is working as a Joint Director at BIWTA. He translated this article into English.