Adversity Turned Into Opportunity
It is a dream comes true for Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, as she inaugurated the Padma Multipurpose Bridge on June 25, 2022. Time and again, Prime Minister Hasina has called this USD 3.6 billion venture her dream project. Earlier, parties in Opposition claimed that the Hasina Government had taken quite a huge amount of foreign aid to construct this expensive bridge. However, the Ministry in charge of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh denied the allegation, saying in a statement that the Government bore the entire cost.
This 150.12mt-long two-level steel truss bridge has a four-lane highway on the upper level and a single railway track on the lower level, apart from 41 spans. While the total length of the bridge is 6.150km, its width is 22.5mt. Hence, it is the longest bridge in Bangladesh, and also the longest over River Ganges in terms of both span and the total length. Meanwhile, the highest depth of pile of the bridge is 122mt, highest among all other bridges. The Friction Pendulum Bearing (FPB) of the bridge, which shall seismically isolate it with earthquake conditions, is 10,000 tonnes… much more than any other bridge in the world. After inaugurating the bridge, Prime Minister Hasina stated that the Padma Multipurpose Bridge would boost the GDP of the South Asian nation by nearly 1.2%. When the railway service on this bridge becomes fully operational, it will take just six and a half hours to reach the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka by train from eastern Indian city of Kolkata.
The Sheikh Hasina Administration had decided to construct the bridge in 2010. It had become a challenge for Prime Minister Hasina to implement the project after the World Bank (WB) refused to sanction a loan for building the Padma Bridge. However, the common people came forward and contributed for the project after their Prime Minister successfully managed to associate the project with their dreams, turning it into an Infrastructure Movement. In 1971, former US Secretary of State Henry Alfred Kissinger had called Bangladesh a bottomless basket. Five decades after its Independence, the South Asian nation is proving Kissinger wrong, in a way. Responding to all forms of sarcasm, PM Hasina announced that the Padma Bridge would be opened for vehicles on June 26. However, the railway service through this bridge would begin later in 2022.
PM Hasina is well aware of the current Geopolitical situation in South Asia. She has repeatedly hinted that Bangladesh is no longer dependent on China. At the same time, she has made it clear that Bangladesh would welcome foreign investment. A senior official of the Government of Bangladesh (who wished to remain anonymous) has said that the PM is concentrating on infrastructure development. As far as foreign policy is concerned, the PM is in favour of maintaining a balance. In 2015, China replaced India to become the largest trading partner of Bangladesh. During his visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped up a competition with India for regional influence, announcing that China and Bangladesh signed 27 agreements worth billions of dollars. He further announced that the volume of Chinese funding in Bangladesh would soon touch USD 24 billion. In 2017, Bangladesh received a pair of Chinese Ming-class Type 035B diesel electric submarines, joining a prestigious club of Asian maritime powers. With this, China intensified the Great Game in the Indian Ocean. After her Beijing tour in 2019, Prime Minister Hasina announced that her Government allowed the Asian giant to use Chittagong and Mongla ports.
Although Bangladesh has strengthened trade ties with China in recent times, Dhaka has not become economically dependent on Beijing. Prime Minister Hasina has often mentioned that she has a blood relation with neighbouring India. She has also invited India to use Chittagong and Mongla ports. Information Minister of Bangladesh Dr Muhammad Hasan Mahmud recently said: “We shall complete the pending work of infrastructure development in early 2023. I have visited the north-eastern part of India and seen that people are very much interested in this project.“
As Sri Lanka (and also Pakistan) is facing an economic crisis because of China’s Debt-trap Diplomacy, Bangladesh seems to be a bit more cautious about Chinese cooperation. China has been pressing Bangladesh for the construction of the Dhaka-Chittagong High Speed Railway Project for a long time. However, Prime Minister Hasina is not interested in implementing this project. Dhaka is not ready for any additional expenses or borrowings, as it does not want to create dependence on a particular country. While a Chinese company has constructed the Padma Bridge, a Japanese company is implementing a Metro Rail project in Dhaka, Russia is building the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, and India is working with Bangladesh on solar power projects.
All these projects shall showcase the self-reliance of Bangladesh in the coming years.
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