The bridge plagued by corruption claims, lynchings

Published June 26, 2022
PRIME Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates the 6.15km long Padma Bridge at Mawa point in Munshiganj.—AFP
PRIME Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates the 6.15km long Padma Bridge at Mawa point in Munshiganj.—AFP

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Saturday opened an important bridge near the capital Dhaka after a long construction plagued by delays, graft allegations, and even deadly lynchings sparked by rumours of human sacrifice.

The inauguration of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge — now officially the country’s longest — caps a key infrastructure goal by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the nearly eight years since construction began.

It ends an economic bottleneck that required freight destined for the country’s poverty-stricken south and the Indian megacity of Kolkata to be slowly ferried over the Padma river, a major tributary of the mighty Ganges.

“This bridge is not just bricks, cement, iron, and concrete,” Hasina told a crowd of nearly a million people who had gathered along the river’s banks for its opening ceremony.

“This bridge is our pride, a symbol of our capacity, strength and dignity,” the leader added. But the project was also burdened by other, more vexing associations even before work began.

Bangladesh financed the $3.87-billion project itself after corruption allegations saw the World Bank and other lenders withdraw finance.

Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin was banned from bidding on World Bank projects for a decade after it was accused of bribing officials over the project.

Prosecutors in Canada eventually declined to pursue corruption charges against company executives after a court ruled some wiretap evidence against them was inadmissible.

Engineers said building challenges for the project were “immense” as siltation left the bottom of the Padma river unstable, making it difficult to place spans and helping blow out the bridge’s finish date by four years.

And in 2019, eight people were killed in vigilante lynchings sparked by social media rumours of children being kidnapped and sacrificed as offerings for the bridge’s construction.

More than 30 others were attacked in connection with the rumours, mostly spread on Face­book, that said human heads were needed to help finish the project.

Despite its troubles, the 6.2-kilometre (3.8-mile) road and rail link has long been signposted as one of the most significant endeavours of Hasina’s tenure.

Local media reported breathlessly on minor construction milestones, such as the completion of one of its 41 concrete spans.

Major roads across Dhaka were festooned with lights, lasers and decorations to mark Saturday’s inauguration.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Shared goals
Updated 16 Aug, 2022

Shared goals

It is high time that all parties realise that negotiation on the economy does not need to be held hostage to political rivalries.
Making amends?
16 Aug, 2022

Making amends?

WHERE relations with the US are concerned, there has been a distinct shift in Imran Khan’s tone. While the PTI...
Hazardous celebration
16 Aug, 2022

Hazardous celebration

CAN celebratory actions that often result in death or lifelong injuries really be described as such? Be it Eid, New...
Taliban anniversary
15 Aug, 2022

Taliban anniversary

A YEAR ago on this day, the Afghan Taliban rolled into Kabul as the Western-backed government fell like a house of...
Extreme measures
Updated 15 Aug, 2022

Extreme measures

Government has overreacted to a degree that has given ammunition to the PTI to accuse it of ‘fascism’.
A depraved society
15 Aug, 2022

A depraved society

IF the extent of sexual violence against women and children is any measure of a society’s moral degradation, then ...