Padma Bridge — strategy for the development of the south
As recommended by the JICA Report the construction of Padma Bridge should start in 2008 - after the next general election. In fact, the foundation of Padma Bridge was laid at Mawa by the former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September 2000. After the regime shift in the election the present regime commissioned a JICA study team to make a new feasibility report including Goalando-Paturia alternative at the cost of Tk 1 billion. After a study that took three years JICA presented a report that recommended Mawa. Obviously the question arises why did we waste three years and one billion takas.
Anwar Hussain Manju the communication minister under Ershad and Hasina was known as great bridge builder. A student of geography, he revolutionised our road transport with a chain of bridges. The Meghna Bridge at Daudkandi, the Jamuna Bridge, the Paksey Bridge over Padma and Bhairab Bridge over the Meghna - all are somehow credited to him. Mawa was his choice too, one could point out. But many say his Prime Minister chose it because it was the shortest way to Tungipara.
However, Helena Zarin Khan, a BNP MP said this was not the case and that Mawa was the demand of 60 million people of Southern Bangladesh, which was the most prosperous region of the country before the partition of 1947 and now the least developed. After partition, Southern Bangladesh ceased to be hinterland of Calcutta but it did not have the same communication with the new capital Dhaka. Mawa Bridge would make that possible.
Ironically Mawa was discovered by Ziaur Rahman, a local gentleman told this writer. He remembered that on a spring day, Zia touched down at Medini Mandal on his helicopter - had launch at the house of the Ghazis where an old lady harangued him to build a road from Dhaka and provide electricity for Boro irrigation.
People got both and Ziaur Rahman was considered a man with magical powers.
But Mawa was Sheikh Hasina's choice too. She too claimed she discovered it. Another place that Zia liked, Kuakata on the coast of Bay of Bengal, also attracted Hasina. Ultimately, it was Hasina who built the Parjatan motel there.
Khaleda Zia has accepted the JICA report to build the bridge at Mawa but hoped the bridges at Goalando and Chandpur would also be built.
We are the children of same land; we all discover Mawa and Kuakata in our own way.
Ziaur Rahman wanted to make Kuakata not only Bangladesh's third port but also the Rotterdam of Asia. A deep channel would be dredged to Kuakata and an area of thirty-five thousand square kilometres - equal to the size of Holland - would be reclaimed from the sea. This vast land would turn into a grazing field and starving Bangladesh would provide milk to the world. The writer knows that you would not even dare to discuss this fantasy with anybody. But Dr Ake Dahlgren told this writer that Ziaur Rahman's dream was quite feasible. So, we wish that if Hasina wins the next election she could pick it up. We do not need to fight over who first did it.
Bangabandhu dreamed of a Jamuna Bridge but it would be a triangular Bridge between Goalundo, Aricha and Nagarbari. But Ziaur Rahman selected the present site. You might complain it was closer to Bogra. But Hasina built the bridge there, the Bangabandhu Bridge. Just do not fight for a name.
The present trouble with Mawa Bridge is that we do not have enough funds. JICA was given the task of feasibility study because we thought JICA would give the fund. The Prime Minister asked for the fund when she was in Japan from the Japanese Parliamentary delegation. She asked for funds from China during her visit to that country. The writer does not know whether she asked it from the oil rich kingdoms of Qatar, Kuwait or Brunei. They are swimming in petrodollars.
But one great idea would be if to raise it from the offshore capital market - from Gibraltar and Cayman Islands. Gibraltar with a population of 29000 has the foreign exchange reserve, half of Saudi Arabia. Its Finance Minister is of Pakistani Hindu Origin - a Sindhi. We do not know whether its Chief Minister Joshua Hassan has any Sylheti connection because Sylheti sailors of British mercantile navy would often stop there. Anyway we can invite Mr Hassan to Bangladesh and ask him whether he could invest here. The world of donation is over. In market economy profitability is the only criteria.
The enormous economic possibility that the sixty million strong market of Southern Bangladesh would open to the outside world is worth exploring.
We do not forget that our ancient capital Vikrampur was situated in this region. The present day Bangladesh was then called Samatat. It was ruled by the Pala kings. They used sail fleet that colonised the entire South East Asia - and gave them Bengali names- Singha Pur- Singapore, Moloy- Malaya, Shyam Thailand (Siam) - Champak- Vietnam- even Ava Tari - AoTeora- New Zealand- Kanaka Dvip - New Caledonia, Kiran Dvip- Kerguellin Island.
Vikrampur was a saga city. Myths flourished about it. Possibly its greatest hero was Atish Dipankar who was worshipped in the Buddhist world from Bhutan to Japan. He was born in Vajra Jogini and was considered a re-incarnation of Lord Buddha. He was supposed to have got his siddhi, the success at Boudha Vihara in Medini Mandal. The invasion by the Senas destroyed the Pala Empire. The capital was shifted to Navadip and Gaur. The Senas were driven away by Muslim liberation of Bengal. Most of the suppressed Buddhist accepted Islam. The capital was shifted to Sonargaon and from there to Jahangir Nagar- today's Dhaka.
Our people, who had once reached the pinnacle of glory, have suffered long from foreign invasions- internal conflicts - economic hardship and devouring famines. But nothing has been so cruel to us than the river Kirtinasha- the combined flows of River Ganges and Brahmaputra the world's two mightiest river system that devoured our ancient capital Vikrampur.
The Ganges originally flowed as Vagirathi to the Bay of Bengal near Calcutta. The Brahmaputra would pass from Mymensingh to Bhairab, Chandpur and then to Bay of Bengal. According to a British report an earthquake in 1860, changed the Ganges flow to Padma and Brahmaputra's flow to Jamuna, they got together at Goalundo and turned Kirtinasha and devoured Vikrampur.
The British never made proper studies of our history, because that would be disclaiming of their colonial authority.
But if we can control the Padma, build the bridge, open gas and railway line to Kuakata, the poverty stricken hungry masses of Southern Bangladesh would get a new opportunity before them. We can have a fresh look to our glorious past and share it with the world.