It has been eight years since the government announced plans for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport, yet no site has been finalized for the project. One site was selected and scrapped after a violent clash between protesters and the law. Over Tk100 crore has been spent on a feasibility study for an alternative site, but now another study has been called for.
When Awami League assumed power after winning the 2009 elections, it had made the grand announcement, outlining the new airport with state-of-the-art facilities. According to the project proposal, the construction is estimated to cost Tk50,000 crore. It will have three runways, each 14,500 feet in length. The airport will cover an area of around 8,000 acres. The project is estimated to take around 10 years for completion.
Back in 2011, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) shortlisted Arial Beel in Munshiganj, Trishal in Mymensingh, and Bhuapur in Tangail. The government settled for Arial Beel and decided to acquire 25,000 acres of land. But, the government had not taken into account the local’s response to the massive project. Protests ensued, and soon turned violent, killing a policeman and injuring many protesters and members of law enforcement agencies. The mishap compelled the government to scrap the Arial Beel site and move on, which from the current rate of progress, has not been significant.
Promises and problems
In her recent visit to Cambodia, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the airport will be a hub connecting between the East and West. In August 2016, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon had told the media that the construction of the airport will begin in 2018.
But the delay in selecting a final location by CAAB hints at an almost apathetic attitude by the government, prompting many to question whether the incumbent government can inaugurate the project before the election.
After the Arial Beel debacle, CAAB shortlisted Char Janajat at Shibchar upazila in Madaripur, Keyain at Sirajdikhan upazila in Munshiganj, and Char Bilashpur under Dohar upazila in Dhaka from eight primary options for a feasibility study. Nippon Koei Ltd was tasked to conduct the feasibility study in September 2016. The 18-month study was estimated to cost Tk120 crore. The findings of the study have been submitted to CAAB, but at an increased cost of Tk136.75 crore.
Reports placed great emphasis on Char Janajat, which is 68km away from Hazrat Sahjalal International Airport and 10 km off the ongoing Padma Bridge project site. The site lies within the Padma and Arialkha river basin areas.
Problems from the shores of Padma
The government is facing incredible difficulty to proceed with Char Janajat because of the protests from local residents. Local public representatives, even those from Awami League, expressed their resentment over the matter during a discussion at the Prime Minister's Office on October 29.
The public representatives said development of Char Janajat for the airport would require a massive relocation, which would jeopardize the lives of countless people. Char Janajat representatives cited the Arial Beel incident, and said they were afraid of the same scenario repeating itself.
Sources from the Prime Minister’s Office said that if the situation does repeat itself, it would reflect poorly on the government right before the 2019 General Election.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, has ordered another feasibility study.
When contacted, Minister Menon said: “We are trying to pick a suitable location for the proposed airport, possibly within December.”
He said the new airport was crucial to meet the growing demand of passengers and burgeoning foreign trade.
Menon told the Dhaka Tribune that local lawmakers have suggested revisiting Char Janajat as the project site in the feasibility study.
“We have already instructed the consultant firm to provide a detailed report on the number of people who would need to be relocated and how much it will cost for resettlement and land acquisition,” he added.
Abul Hasnat Md Ziaul Huq, additional secretary of the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry, said: “The consultant company has started its feasibility study again following the premier's directive in this regard. We will have the report very soon.”