Bangladesh inaugurates major bridge eyeing economic benefit
Dhaka, Jun 25 (EFE).- Bangladesh on Saturday inaugurated a bridge on the country’s largest river Padma, setting up direct communication between the capital city of Dhaka and 21 districts in the southwest, which is expected to provide significant economic dividends to the south Asian country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Padma Bridge, the flagship project of her government amid festivities, with thousands of supporters attending a massive rally near the 6.15-kilometer (3.8-mile) long structure.
“I congratulate all Bangladeshis, including those living abroad on this occasion. This is not just not a bridge, this is our pride,” Hasina said in her address at the event.
Diplomats, development partners, political leaders and civil society members, among others, were present at the inaugural ceremony.
The two-level road and railway bridge was built by the Bangladesh Bridge Authority some 50 kilometers west of Dhaka at an expense of $3.8 billion, with the government financing the entire project.
The bridge has a four-lane road on its upper level and a single-track, dual-gauge rail on the lower level.
The event was marked across the country, with the authorities decorating government buildings, and important landmarks and roads with colorful banners and festoons.
Newspapers published special supplements while television channels aired special programs celebrating the opening of the bridge that is expected bring major economic benefit for the country and alleviate poverty by 0.84 percent.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), however, criticized the government for the festivities during the opening ceremony at a time when a part of the country remains deluged by floodwater, with millions affected.
In recent months, prime minister Hasina has lashed out at opposition leader Khaleda Zia for criticizing the project, and Bangladeshi Nobel laureate professor Muhammad Yunus for allegedly influencing the World Bank to cancel funding for the construction.
In 2012, the World Bank canceled its $1.2 billion IDA credit – under which it provides zero to low-interest loans – for the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, citing “credible evidence” of high-level corruption.
Ahead of the inauguration of Padma Bridge, a spokesperson of the World Bank told EFE they hoped the bridge would boost Bangladesh’s economic growth.
“As a long-standing development partner of Bangladesh, the World Bank recognizes the many benefits the Padma Bridge brings to the people and economy of Bangladesh by boosting inclusive growth and reducing poverty in the country,” said the spokesperson.
Economists said they bridge would bring investment in the country’s southwestern region, help industrialization and boost tourism, adding 1.23 percent to Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product.
Once rail communication starts through the bridge another one percent will be added to the GDP, said Mustafizur Rahman, a former economics professor of Dhaka University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, citing initial assessment.
“But the economic benefit will not come automatically. We will get the maximum benefit of Padma Bridge only if we can transform it from transport corridor to economic corridor,” he said.
“If we can build special economic zones, industrial parks, tourism centers in an integrated and affordable way (…) only then Padma Bridge will turn into an economic corridor from transport corridor,” added the economist.
The United States was among the major countries to congratulate Bangladesh on this occasion.
“Building sustainable transportation infrastructure to connect people and goods efficiently is important to fostering inclusive economic growth,” the US Embassy in Dhaka said in a statement. EFE