‘It feels like Eid’: Bangladeshis rejoice at launch of Padma Bridge

Third-grader Jannatul Nayeem Piya arrived at the Zajira end of the Padma Bridge with her father from Madaripur’s Shibchar to watch history unfold as the country geared up for the inauguration of its longest bridge.

Masum Billahand Meherun Naher Meghla, from Shibcharbdnews24.com
Published : 25 June 2022, 12:11 PM
Updated : 25 June 2022, 09:16 PM

“It’s so vibrant here, with so many people. I love it. It feels like Eid today,” Piya said, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina marked the realisation of a dream by inaugurating the Tk 301.93 billion bridge on Saturday after overcoming numerous hurdles over the last two decades.

Piya’s father Fazlu Kabir was similarly excited. “It’s somewhat similar to the Eid celebrations for people in Madaripur. We'd always dreamt of a bridge. Today it has become a reality. I brought my daughter here so that she can be part of this historic moment,” he said.

Mohammad Mintu, who works as a handyman at the nearby Sheikh Russel Cantonment and is originally from Chapainawabganj, came to the Zajira point to be part of the history too. “Though this bridge makes no difference to me as I never have to take it to go home [Chapainawabganj], this bridge belongs to all the Bangladeshis. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

The 6.15km-long bridge will connect 21 administrative districts with Dhaka by road from Sunday, making travel hassle-free for people in the country's southwest. The rail link on the lower deck of the two-storey structure is likely to open next year.

Tens of thousands of people from nearby districts gathered at the location to hear her speak. Gobinda Chandra Ghosh, a grassroots Awami League leader from Shariatpur’s Naria, was among them.

“I can’t express how happy I’m today,” a visibly excited Gobinda said.

Gobinda and his fellow Awami League activists in Naria have been preparing to join this rally for quite a while. “A launch was rented for us so that we can come here to see our leader speak,” he said.

Syed Shikder, a registered Awami League activist, arrived at the spot by launch too. “Today, all the people of southwest Bangladesh have come here to pay their gratitude to the prime minister. We thank her. She did it,” he said.

Like Gobinda and Shikder, countless others came by launches, which docked at Shibchar’s Kathalbari terminal, while some drove or took public transport.

Some even came on foot, marching in celebratory processions after walking miles just to be part of the momentous occasion. The mass gathering caused massive gridlock in the Kazir Hat area of Madaripur’s Shibchar Upazila.

Shahjahan Ali, a retired drill sergeant of the Bangladesh Army, was a part of the crowd. He drove overnight from Dinajpur with his family to watch the Padma Bridge.

“We drove for hours. You have the will, you’ll have the way. My gratitude to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Our dream’s been fulfilled,” he said.

Sathi Mazumder, a newly married young woman from Madaripur’s Shibchar, came to see the bridge from Zajira point in Shariatpur with her husband, Sagar Mazumder, on the opening day.

The couple lives at Sagar’s ancestral place in Munshiganj’s Bikrampur.

“It feels great to be here! It also feels great to know that from now on, I just have to cross the bridge to get to my father’s home in Shibchar,” she said.

Sagar, however, expected to have a moment with his wife on top of the bridge.

“I hoped that we could take some selfies and photographs standing on top of the bridge. But it’s not allowed,” a visibly disappointed Sagar said.

The Bridge Authority has prohibited pedestrians and taking of pictures on the bridge, which will open to traffic on Sunday, for security reasons.

Thousands of people like Sathi and Sagar travelled quite far just to be a part of the historic moment, to watch the Padma Bridge at its full glory.

Members of security agencies had a tough time controlling the sea of crowds.

Army personnel, who have been guarding the main entrance of the bridge from Zajira point, had erected a barrier 30 metres before the toll plaza to bar people from entering the main bridge.

That barrier even failed to stop the enthusiastic people, who were seeking to create a memento like taking a photograph standing on top of the bridge. At one point, security personnel even had to charge batons to disperse the crowds.

'SYMBOL OF PRIDE'

The Padma Bridge is not a pile of brick and cement but a symbol of Bangladesh’s pride, honour and ability, Hasina said, as she celebrated the completion of the government-funded project.

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It encapsulates our passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance,” she said, adding that the construction had been set back by various plots and conspiracies, but eventually, all hurdles were surmounted.

“This bridge encapsulates Bangladesh’s passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance,” Hasina said at the inauguration ceremony. The prime minister arrived at the inauguration stage by helicopter at 10 am and was joined onstage by Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Alam, Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader and Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project Director Shafiqul Alam.

Nearly 3,000 invited guests, including foreign diplomats, ministers and senior Awami League leaders joined Hasina in celebrating the inauguration of the bridge. Among the guests were Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique, World Bank Country Director Mercy Tembon, Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami, and Gonoshasthaya Kendra Trustee Zafrullah Chowdhury.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pays the toll to cross the Padma Bridge at a toll plaza at the Mawa end before inaugurating the structure on Saturday, Jun 25, 2022. Photo: PID

After the inaugural speech, the prime minister headed towards the toll plaza in Mawa with her convoy. Before ascending the bridge, she paid a toll of Tk 750. Hasina also paid for the other vehicles in her convoy.

Two decades after laying the foundation stone of the bridge, the prime minister marked a landmark achievement for Bangladesh by unveiling the inaugural plaque and Mural-1 at the toll plaza at Mawa as a barrage of colours filled the air.

Afterwards, the prime minister and her convoy set off for a ride across the bridge. On the way to the Zajira end, the convoy made a brief stop as the prime minister got off her car and stood on the bridge. As she soaked up the view, helicopters of the air force flew overhead with the national flag, while aircraft performed aerobatics on the horizon.

Hasina later unveiled another plaque at the Zajira end to cap the inauguration ceremony.

It was the World Bank that had pledged fund for the project but later withdrew citing corruption that were never proved. “The World Bank is the biggest development partner of Bangladesh and we recognise the importance of this bridge,” its current Country Director Tembon said on Saturday.

The bridge will create jobs, reduce travel time, increase the welfare of people, get produce from farm to market quickly and cut poverty, she said. “We are happy that the bridge is complete and we are happy that Bangladesh will benefit from this bridge. And, as a longstanding partner of Bangladesh, we stand with Bangladesh in this.”

The bridge is a 'very important' structure for South Asia and will enhance the connectivity within Bangladesh and in the region, according to Doraiswami. The Indian high commissioner said, "It's a historic day and I wish the people of Bangladesh the best."

Celebrations at Hatirjheel in Dhaka.

The prime minister did not hold back in her criticism of Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus either as she brushed aside claims of irregularities in the project. The government has repeatedly rebuked the Nobel laureate for actively working to cut off funding from the World Bank by drumming up allegations of corruption.

“Who would engage in corruption? This is the bridge of our hearts. Why would there be any corruption in the construction of a bridge on which the people's fate hangs? ” she shot back at the critics.

“We’re building economic zones all over the country. Now that the Padma Bridge has been built, we’ll have more special economic zones, industrial zones, factories and employment. We’ll be able to process crops and fish for export. It’ll put an end to our sorrows and change our fortunes.”

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher