Padma River: Why two bridges 50 km apart?
THE Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs headed by Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith, decided in principle at a meeting on October 27 to build the 2nd bridge over the Padma River at Paturia-Goalondo under Public Private Partnership (PPP). Construction of this 6.10 km bridge with a railway track will cost about $ 2 billion. The 1st bridge at Mawa- Jajira point has been struck by corruption allegations from the World Bank. This has halted progress and made its future uncertain. Construction of the 10 km bridge, costing $ 2.97 billion, was to be financed by the World Bank ($1.2 billion), ADB ($615 million), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) ($400 million) and IDB ($140 million). Now the government appears to be ready to call for tender of another bridge on the Padma River, but without any financial pledges from any of those or other agencies. My question is; when the 220 km long Jamuna River has only one bridge at Sirajganj, then why does the 104 km long Padma River need two costly bridges within 50 km distance? JICA made a pre-feasibility study in 2004 for construction of the Padma Bridge at four possible sites: (1) Paturia-Goalondo, (2) Dohar-Char Vadrasan, (3) Mawa- Jajira and (4) Chandpur-Vedarganj. The study rejected the Chandpur-Vedarganj site because of its distant location. JICA said that both the Paturia- Goalondo and Mawa- Jajira sites were economically viable. The then BNP government endorsed the JICA study and declared that the Padma Bridge shall be constructed at Mawa- Jajira point. After that declaration by the government, people on the Paturia- Goalondo route started agitating and demanded that the bridge be built at their point. In response, the BNP government declared that it would construct another bridge at their point. But JICA recommendation was definitely not for two bridges; it was for one bridge only at any one of those sites. JICA, surprisingly, did not evaluate the Dohar-Char Vadrasan site for a compromise. The JICA study has several flaws, but is the only documented study that can be referred to. The recommended Mawa-Jajira point for the bridge was on a very unstable site. The southern bank of that site in Shibchar, Madaripur, and Jajira, Shariatpur lies on the old bed of the Ganga River, and is very vulnerable to erosion. This old course of the Ganga River can be seen in Rennell's Map of 1779. We said that the JICA recommended 6.2 km bridge with 6 km bank protection on the southern bank would not be enough for stability, and that the bridge needed to be longer with bank protection of about 20 km length. Starting with the JICA estimated cost of $1,074 million, the cost in 2007 rose to $1,473 million, $1,800 million in 2009, and $2,600 million in 2010. Bridge Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said that the cost was increasing because the bridge length had increased to 10 km (The Daily Star, October 20). Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith said that construction of the bridge would start by March 2012 with estimated cost of $2,900 million. But now its progress is stalled indefinitely because of corruption charges by the World Bank. Against the backdrop of corruption charges related to the 1st bridge, the decision to go for the 2nd bridge at Paturia- Goalondo site appears to be a political move of the AL government. A PPP driven project in Bangladesh always had been a place for cost manipulation and corruption. I see no hope from this move and no bridge in the near future in the prevailing situation. Why did the government not opt for a compromise solution and select the Dohar- Char Vadrasan site for the bridge? This place, having hard soil at Dhulsara, Harirampur on its northern bank, and bank protection works at Hajiganj, Char Vadrasan on southern bank, makes a very stable site for the bridge. This site is only 25 km from either Paturia- Goalondo or Mawa- Jajira sites. A recent study made by CEGIS for construction of the Bangabandhu International Airport found that the southern bank of Mawa- Jajira point (Char Janajat, Shibchar) was unstable (The Daily Star, November 5). Their recommendation for an alternate stable site at Char Bilaspur, Dohar is near to our proposed Dohar- Char Vadrasan site. The people of Pabna travel 80 km up to cross the Jamuna Bridge to go to Dhaka. Why can't the people from southern districts or southwestern districts travel only 25 km extra to reach the Padma Bridge at a compromise location? The Jamuna Bridge had to be connected with two approach roads, from Hatikumrul to the west and from Elenga to the east. Then why can't the approach roads be built from Hemayetpur from north and Talma from the south? Why can't a new railway line be built, connecting Singia, Bhatiapara and Pukhuria, to run over this bridge to Jurain in Dhaka, which will be a revolutionary change in railway communication with southwestern Bangladesh? If one goes through the JICA study, one can find enough reason to justify this location (Site 2) in terms of cost, stability and benefit. I recommend that the government and other stakeholders consider the Dohar- Char Bhadrasan site only (Site 2) for construction of the Padma Bridge. According to the JICA report, this site has the narrowest river width (4.4 km) compared to the other 2 sites over the Padma River. The length of the bridge here shall not be more than 5.5 km. This site, with 50 km approach road, has the lowest cost estimate of $966 million only (Paturia $1,260 Million, Mawa $1,074 Million). With a railway track added, it should be within $1,200 million. My major points are, (1) the Dohar- Char Vadrasan site is more stable, (2) it can benefit the people of both the south and the southwestern regions, and (3) it can save money that would be needed to construct an extra burdensome bridge on the Padma River. The writer is Chairman, Institute of Water & Environment. Email: [email protected].