Economists on Saturday urged the government to make ‘complementary’ investments and prepare a regional integration plan to tap the benefit from the Padma bridge.
They have called for upgrading the Mongla Port and zonal transportation system bypassing Dhaka city to maximise the benefit of international trade using the new corridor through the bridge.
Several studies said that the bridge would increase the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate by 1.2 percentage points and the internal rate of return would be 35 per cent.
The 6.15-km bridge, expected to be launched open to traffic in June 2022, would reshape the economy of the Barisal and part of Khulna divisions, the country’s two major pockets of poverty.
Distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Debapriya Bhattyacharya told the FE that complementary investment is a must for leveraging the mega bridge.
He also suggested forming a regional development policy by the government to benefit from cross-border trade and commerce in the South Asia sub-continent and beyond.
The bridge would connect the impoverished south-western region with the economically-developed Dhaka and Chittagong divisions.
“Once the bridge is open to traffic, there may be some investments in the south-western part of the country. But people in that region are not skilled and well-educated for getting jobs. In that case, skilled manpower from other regions and even from abroad will take over the employment opportunities there,” he said.
If the government does not develop a complementary human resources development plan and does not start work from now, the people in the lagging region would be deprived of spillovers and the expected economic returns will be negligible, Dr Bhattacharya said.
The economist has also advised the authorities to invest in the energy development, feeder road construction, and financial inclusion in the south-western region for boosting the economic activities at higher paces.
The CPD fellow also urged the government to analyse the current huge investments, its impact on the public borrowing and returns from the toll of the bridge.
Executive director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI) Dr Ahsan H Mansur said the connecting or complementary roads and other infrastructure like power and energy supply could boost the economic returns of the bridge.
“The time and cost overrun has already resulted in the reduction of the internal rate of return from the Padma bridge project. So, the preliminary estimate of adding 1.2 percentage points of GDP to the national economy may not be achieved if all the preparations are not ready from the day one of the bridge launch,” he told the FE.
He suggested the government connect the Chittagong seaport, Matarbari seaport, Pyra seaport with the Padma bridge, bypassing Dhaka city for enhancing the domestic as well as regional trade, Dr Mansur said.
The economist has called for establishing a “greater economic belt” at the Jessore and its adjacent areas to supply Bangladeshi products within the country as well as India and other sub-regional countries.
The government on December 10 installed the 41st and last span of the bridge, which made the entire infrastructure over the mighty Padma visible.
The construction work of the bridge, financed with internal resources, started in December 2015 and the first span (superstructure) was installed on September 30, 2017.
The bridge is a multipurpose one where trains, gas line, power lines would also be installed.