Prime Minister greets people and opens Padma Bridge
It was a cloudy morning in Mawa. Monsoon rain clouds loomed on the horizon as the long-awaited Padma Bridge awaited its inauguration. But even the monsoon wouldn’t have the audacity to rain down on today’s parade, at least not before the bridge’s inauguration.
Because it was a day like no other – a momentous occasion in the history of Bangladesh – which celebrates the courage and determination of its leader in Sheikh Hasina, the resilience of its people, and serves as an appropriate response to opponents, some some of them who had warned against building the bridge while others hoped for its failure.
But ending all fiction and speculation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina finally inaugurated the multipurpose Padma Bridge, twenty-four years after the Awami League government took the initiative to build the bridge in 1998. She also unveiled a mural containing a painting of the visionaries of the bridge: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Sheikh Hasina herself.
“The Padma Bridge is complete. Bangladesh’s economy has not collapsed. The country is moving forward at a blistering pace. We have proven to the world that we can do it,” the prime minister said during her speech at the inauguration ceremony of the Padma Bridge on Saturday.
“Padma Bridge is therefore not only a bridge to prove one’s self esteem and ability of the Bangalees but also a revenge for the insult that has been done to the whole nation. The people of Bangladesh are the source of my courage I salute them,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina expressed his gratitude to all engineers, officials and employees involved in the construction of Padma Bridge, local and foreign experts, consultants, contractors, engineers, technicians, laborers and members of the military.
She remembered Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury and prayed for the salvation of his departed soul. She also wished eternal peace for the souls of those associated with the construction of the Padma Bridge who died.
She also thanked the people living on both sides of the Padma Bridge whose lands and houses were acquired for the bridge.
As they often say, the harder the climb, the greater the view. That must have been on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s mind when she got out of the Mercedes Maybach after paying the first toll on the bridge and looked around at the horizon of the mighty Padma River, as the Bangladesh Air Force sang of the monsoon. clouds in the red and green of Bangladesh.
The dreams of her father, the hopes of millions of citizens of Bangladesh, and the perseverance of her and her colleagues and supporters have finally paid off.
The construction of the multi-purpose Padma Bridge was a remarkable feat in many ways. First, building a bridge over the second most turbulent river in the world with high sedimentation rates required the deepest piles (128 meters) of any river bridge the world has ever seen. This feat – in itself – amounted to an engineering marvel.
In addition to this, the bridge would connect South Bengal to the rest of the country and boost the country’s GDP growth rate by 1.23% in the coming years. More importantly, it would save countless lives that would have been lost waiting for the ferries to arrive. Despite its arguably somewhat excessive cost, the Padma Bridge will be remembered as a historic achievement in Bangladesh.
But contrary to what cynics might suggest, it wasn’t just government officials or party leaders who were thrilled with the bridge’s inauguration. From Mirkat Sheikh who came from Bagerhat to Abdur Rahman, a 51-year-old resettled citizen who had to give up his land to facilitate the construction of the bridge, everyone was eagerly awaiting to witness first hand the momentous inauguration of the bridge.
As Mirkat said, “I am a village doctor, I travel to Dhaka very often. Before, it took me at least 5-7 hours to reach the capital. But now it will only take three hours.”
“Now I can return from Dhaka on the same day,” he added.
The unbridled excitement of the laity could not be better manifested than the swarms of people literally storming the protective barriers to walk across the bridge for the first time. But there were also those who rented launches and trawlers simply to celebrate the opening of the bridge.
One of these daring individuals was Mintu who, with his friends, had crossed the barbed wire to get on the bridge.
“When we saw a car or two come up on the bridge, we knew whether we had to get on the bridge today, whether we liked it or not,” Mintu said.
But as Mintu and his friends crossed halfway across the bridge, the police charged them with sticks and forced them down.
Although he was beaten by the police, Mintu had no regrets, saying, “If we couldn’t get on the bridge today, I would die of grief!”
The celebrations were not limited to the areas around the bridge, but had spread to the whole country in different ways.
District governments, local organizations, political parties and educational institutions held rallies, organized meetings, cultural programs, concerts and festive events to mark the historic day. The entire inauguration ceremony was broadcast live across the country, using spotlights to the enthusiastic applause of the crowds. In some cities, symbolic Padma bridges were built for people who could not attend the inaugural ceremony.
The completion of the bridge has also received international acclaim. From Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to Japanese Ambassador Ito Naoki at the US Embassy, everyone has hailed Bangladesh’s unilateral efforts to bring this gigantic project to fruition. Even the World Bank – which had accused the project’s affiliates of corruption and embezzlement and cut funding for the project in 2012 – hailed the Bangladesh government’s commitment to building the bridge.
That’s not to say the road has always been so rosy and the effort so acclaimed. On the contrary, from the Padma being the second most turbulent river in the world at the risk of self-financing a mega project – the trip was rather infuriating as well as exhausting, as the Prime Minister herself pointed out in her moving testimony . poignant opening remarks.
Moreover, there was no shortage of such entities thanks to whom, the completion of the bridge – from planning, feasibility testing and land acquisition to the eventual construction of the bridge – went through many trials and tribulations and has been delayed for so many decades.
Firstly, were it not for the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the subsequent turbulent period in the political landscape of Bangladesh, we probably could have celebrated this day a long time ago. Apparently, Japan was even supposed to test the feasibility of a bridge over the Padma River. But none of this would continue for more than two decades due to the untimely end of Bangabandhu’s life by a dark conspiracy on August 15, 1975.
Twenty-three years later, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League took the initiative to build the bridge and even laid the foundation stone for the project in 2001. But then the BNP government took power in 2001 and the project was suspended indefinitely until 2007, when the former caretaker government finally approved the project. In April 2011, the World Bank even signed an agreement with the newly elected Awami League government approving $1.2 billion to fund the project.
It came as a surprise, however, when the World Bank accused the project’s affiliates of corruption and conspiracy and withdrew from funding the project, despite the Awami League government’s firm refusal to acknowledge that a corruption conspiracy had been committed. In July 2012, in a rather bold statement, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that Bangladesh would continue to self-finance the construction of the Padma Bridge.
Predictably, only a handful of people believed that such a bold dream would ever come true, that too in a less developed country like Bangladesh, often dependent on foreign aid and development loans.
But against all odds and despite multiple delays, revisions, design flaws and subsequent cost escalations, Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh were in triumphant mode today as the first convoy of motor vehicles passed through the mighty Padma of Mawa in Jazira.
Ultimately, the Padma Bridge means a lot of different things to a lot of people. For economists, it is a symbol of regional connectivity and economic progress with trans-Asian potential. For the people of South Bengal, it is a symbol of comfort and ease of communication. But above all, as the Prime Minister emphasized in her inaugural remarks, it is a symbol of self-reliance and a manifestation of the resilience of our eternal, indomitable spirit.