The Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project will change the economic landscape of southwestern Bangladesh if its opening is matched with improvements to energy security and other infrastructure, politicians and industrialists have said.
Bagerhat-3 lawmaker Talukder Abdul Khaleque, a former state minister, believes that with the right planning, the bridge will initiate an “industrial revolution” in the 21 southwestern districts of the country.
“The southern region will become the country’s biggest economic zone after the opening of the Padma Bridge, provided that the zone receives the gas supply it needs,” he said.
The first of 41 spans of the bridge was installed on September 30 and the government is optimistic that the new megastructure could boost the GDP of the country by 1.2% when it is completed by December 2018.
“A special economic zone is being built in Bagerhat (and) the Khan Jahan Ali Airport project is being fast-tracked to become a fully-fledged airport,” Khaleque said. “A number of new cement factories have already started production near the Mongla Port. The number of export-oriented industries is also increasing in the region.”
The districts that can reap economic benefits from the bridge are spread across three divisions.
They are Khulna, Bagerhat, Jessore, Satkhira, Narail, Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhenaidah, Magura under the Khulna Division; Barisal, Pirojpur, Bhola, Patuakhali, Barguna and Jhalokati under the Barisal Division; and Gopalganj, Faridpur, Madaripur, Shariatpur and Rajbari under the Dhaka Division.
A recent report from the Khulna Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) on the impact of the Padma Bridge said its guarantee of an improved road network to the rest of the country will reduce both the required time and cost associated with transportation.
“The region will witness a breakthrough in development following the completion of Padma Bridge,” Khulna chamber President Kazi Aminul Haque said. “Investment and employment in the region will go up significantly, and income inequality will come down.”
The report further revealed that Mongla Port will become essential to businessmen across the country for importing and exporting goods, as the bridge will cut transportation costs and time. In addition, the KCCI report said Payra Port, a relatively small seaport in Patuakhali, could be transformed into a deep seaport with the necessary new equipment and modernisation.
The Khulna chamber report further said the Padma Bridge would help increase the profit earned by exporting frozen fish and jute products, which are the main exports in Khulna division.
The bridge will further improve domestic transportation of goods and passengers through the integrated railway system, while finally connecting Bangladesh to the Asian Highway Network.
While few commentators dispute that the bridge will breathe new life into the economy of the southern region and will significantly increase employment opportunities, some economists have urged the government to start strengthening other essential infrastructure ahead of the bridge’s completion.
“The Padma Bridge will help build an integrated communication network in Bangladesh, provided that the demands for gas, electricity and other infrastructural developments are met,” Centre for Policy Dialogue Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem said.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Atiur Rahman said the “dream project” will help create more river and sea ports across the country if the right investments are also made elsewhere.
“We must further improve gas, electricity and other infrastructures in the region to reap the benefits of industrialisation,” he said.
Bagerhat Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Liakat Hossain Liton said land was already being demarcated for the creation of new economic zones in Faridpur, Madaripur and Khulna.
“People doing business in the region must be given incentives for realising the full potential of this industrial boom. Businessmen will consider setting up businesses and industries in the region, if tax rates are cut,” he said.
“I had a factory in Chittagong, which I sold to build an industry in Bagerhat, after construction of the Padma Bridge started moving forward. Many industrialists like me took the same step.”