‘Padma-Plus’ initiative needed to reap benefits

Selim Raihan, a professor at the economics department of Dhaka University carried out research on the economic significance of Padma Bridge in 2009. He talks to Prothom Alo about the socioeconomic impact of the bridge on the eve of its inauguration.

Selim RaihanProthom Alo

Q :

About a decade ago, you carried out research on the economic significance of Padma Bridge. Is the economic importance still the same?

We had stated in the research done on the economic importance of the Padma Bridge, including the development of the southern region, that the bridge will be useful for poverty alleviation and progress of economic growth.

In the last one decade or so, there have been massive changes in the economy. Economic activities have developed a lot more than in the past. From that angle, the significance of Padma Bridge is much greater now.

Q :

What initiatives do you think can be taken for the infrastructural development of the south and southwest region to reap optimum benefits of the bridge?

The issue of the infrastructural development of the south and southwest region has long been neglected. It is a flood prone region. It has to be kept in mind, how roads as well as flood-resistant infrastructures can be made using latest technology. Plus, investment has to be considered too.

Roads and other infrastructure are not the only catalysts of investment. Availability of easy-interest loans, skilled workforce and land, are also important issues. A ‘Padma-Plus’ initiative is required.

The Padma Bridge is a major catalyst of development. It is possible to achieve our desired goals, if we can fulfill other prerequisites of investment, centering that.

Q :

Earlier, Bangabandhu Bridge was built over Jamuna River. In terms of socio-economic development, what are the similarities and differences between Padma Bridge and Bangabandhu Bridge?

The experience we gathered from Bangabandhu Bridge can be instructive in determining the future action plan of Padma Bridge. When Bangabandhu Bride was built, there was no ‘Bridge-Plus’ plan then.

The issues related to the bridge such as the infrastructure, availability of electricity and gas facilities or improvement of the investment environment in the northern region, were not there either. So, when Bangabandhu Bridge was opened, the expected outcome was not that visible in the initial years.

Q :

The south and southwest region of the country is about to get connected with the Trans-Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway. What could the new initiative in the commercial and industrial sectors be in the region?

Industries didn’t flourish in the south for various reasons. There was a huge issue regarding connectivity with other parts of the country. The issue of advancing the fisheries, agricultural produce, jute industries, agro-processing industries, salt-tolerant paddies and other grains of the south has to be considered.

Alongside, if we can set up economic zones, through land development with flood-resistant infrastructure, it will attract the industrialists of our mainstream economic sectors into investing in this region. It will create employment for the people of this region.

Q :

How logical is the inclusion of railways on the Padma Bridge?

It is a bold step to add railways on the Padma Bridge. The land routes won’t suffice as the only means of transporting goods to and from Payra or Mongla ports as well as different economic zones. Therefore, railway is necessary.

However, the problems with our large-scale projects are ‘cost overrun’ and ‘time overrun’. To gain the benefits of such enormous projects, the work has to be completed within the stipulated time at a reasonable cost.

Q :

It is being assumed, the bridge has created scope for a more effective use of the Payra and Mongla seaports. To what extent are the ports ready for that?

We will get the outcome once the speed of those two ports and different new infrastructure is accelerated. You talked about connectivity with Trans-Asian highway and railway. Padma Bridge has created scope for a sub-regional connectivity among Nepal, Bhutan and the northeast states of India.

Geologically, Bangladesh remains at the very centre of this entire region. Along with infrastructural development, if Bangladesh can ensure policy development and bring useful policies to the foreground, it can assume the central role in the overall development of the region.

Q :

Efforts for the establishment of industries on agro lands in the southern region are being noticed from even before the completion of the bridge. The southern region is at risk due to climate change. What measures do you think should be taken to preserve the ecological balance of the region?

The region is gradually turning risky with the rise of the sea level. TSalinity is increasing, natural disasters also occur more frequently in this region. There are rules for how much agro lands can be used for industrial purposes.

If lands are allocated for industries inside economic zones, it will save agro lands on one hand. On the other hand, investors will also get all sorts of facilities in one place.