In post-independence Bangladesh, the Bangabandhu government had to undertake the gigantic task of rebuilding the country's infrastructure, devastated by the occupation army of Pakistan in 1971.
According to a media report, the transport and communication sector alone suffered damage worth 160 million US dollars in 1971 while the loss to public assets amounted to 350 million US dollars during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Starting from scratch, the government of the newly independent country constructed a total of 97 bridges in a couple of years as part of its plan to set in motion sustained economic growth. The Bangabandhu Bridge, connecting the northern region to the central part of the country, was planned on November 4, 1974. Bangabandhu had also directed the launch of three truck-carrying ferries that crossed the Padma river with ferry trucks and cars for over four decades. Emulating the feat of Bangabandhu, his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made another paradigm shift in the development of Bangladesh by accomplishing the country's biggest megaproject, the Padma Bridge, which would change the fate of 50 million people.
As the Padma Bridge was opened to the public on June 25, 2022, a new era dawned on the southern part of Bangladesh, creating a hype that resonated throughout the country. The event made headlines across all national media outlets and some international broadcasting channels and newspapers. The success story was made after braving a sea of hurdles, owing to the steely resolve of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It was during the first term of the Awami League government between 1996 and 2001 that a careful analysis of the river movement and the feasibility study of Padma Bridge was accomplished in a scientific manner. Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the bridge in 2001, sowing the seed of hope that a significant portion of the country would have better access to the capital and the hassle and trouble of Dhaka-bound passengers waiting for ferries would come to an end.
The project, however, met an abrupt halt with the change in regime in 2001. As the Awami League government clinched a victory in the election in 2008, Hasina undertook the initiative of reviving the project. Though challenges posed by circumstances put the bridge's construction at stake, she never faltered on her stance to carry it forward. Finally, Padma Bridge was transformed from a collective dream to an intangible reality as it was inaugurated on June 25. Consequently, today about one-third of the land in the southwest is directly connected to the whole of Bangladesh, including the capital, by road. Many dubbed this feat the biggest achievement since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 as it would change the lives of around 50 million people in the southwest region.
The world is stunned by the way Bangladesh handled such a difficult project with its own fund. Even a country like Pakistan acknowledged that this would have never been possible without the indomitable courage and foresight of the prime minister. Firstly, the river Padma, the confluence of Brahmaputra and Ganges, is prevalent with one of the strongest currents in the world. Notably, the Brahmaputra is also one of the widest rivers in the world. When the strong current of the Padma meets it, its current becomes even greater than that of the Amazon. Bangladesh has set an example by building a two-storied bridge of aesthetic installation on the heart of Padma by overcoming a spectrum of natural adversities. This bridge has now emerged as a symbol of strong Bangladesh and the unvanquishable morale of the Bengali nation in the international arena.
The Bangladesh government had to deal with terrible opposition and political harassment in addition to natural challenges. Building this bridge became Awami League's political commitment, which met scathing criticism, hateful rumors, and multi-faceted conspiracies. Carrying forward the legacy of her father, who had guided the nation's struggle toward freedom, Hasina refused to yield to the local and international pressure, negotiating all the obstacles till the end.
Hasina's firm stance to navigate the project with the country's own fund is marked by the unmistakable influence of her father, who reshaped the infrastructural landscape of war-torn Bangladesh in a handful of years. In addition to repairing the land communication system by rebuilding innumerable roads, bridges, and railways, the Bangabandhu government endowed the nation with an international airport. Domestic flights debuted in 1972 and the first international flight made its way to London from Dhaka on June 18 in 1973. Airports at Tejgaon and Jessore were opened at the same time. Bangabandhu government also started building Kurmitola International Airport (now Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport). The Shipping Corporation was established during Bangabandhu's government. In 1974, the government also featured 14 sea-going ships.
Electricity supply was restored by fixing and establishing 1500-kilometer electric lines, rebuilding 400 substations, renovating power stations of Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sirajganj, and supplying 5,000 electricity poles. All these efforts culminated in 200-megawatt electricity production. On the energy landscape, Bangabandhu reached another milestone on August 9, 1975, only six days before his assassination at the hands of some disgruntled army officers, when he purchased five gas fields from a multinational oil drilling company, Shell Oil Company, paying very little. Only 4.5 million pounds sterling (17-18 crore taka of that period) was paid to get Bakhrabad, Titas, Rashidpur, Kailashtila, and Habiganj gas fields state-owned. History records no other example of purchasing such a huge reserve of gas for so cheap. Even after four decades of fulfilling the ever-increasing demands, these gas fields dole out a staggering 31.44% of the country's total production today. What Bangabandhu planned 45 years ago is now the means of energy security as well as industrialization or development of the country and helped the country depend less on imports from foreign countries.
Back in 1971, Bangabandhu organised a whole nation against a genocide that killed three million people, proving himself to be one of the greatest leaders of world history. But, the role he played in post-independence Bangladesh to rebuild the country and its infrastructure is often outshined by his previous role in fighting for freedom. His leonine courage to advance the connectivity of Bangladesh without heavily depending on foreign donations has resonated through her daughter's initiative to self-fund the engineering masterpiece Padma Bridge, which would gear up the country's GDP and set the example of a development miracle in the world.
The writer is the coordinator of the ALBD Web Team at the Centre for Research & Information
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.