The inauguration of the much-awaited Padma Bridge on June 25 is going to bring increased economic activities in the 21 southwestern districts of the country. Businesses will expand, employment will be generated and new industries will be set up.

Faridpur will be no exception.

The 6.15-km Padma Bridge, the country's largest infrastructure, has instilled a sense of hope among the people of Faridpur since the beginning of its construction in 2014.

Faridpur and 20 other districts in the region anticipate a huge change in their livelihood after the opening of the double-decker bridge. The railway tracks are being set up along the lower deck, while the upper deck has been built for vehicles. The bridge is connected with a six-lane Mawa-Bhanga Expressway.

While the bridge opens in just weeks, the movement of train will take some time to start.

Faridpur is already witnessing increased economic activities as industrialists and businessmen have already started to buy land for setting up their factories, which will in turn develop the socioeconomic condition of the district's people to a great extent.

President of Faridpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) Md Nazrul Islam said that Padma Bridge will change Faridpur's economic outlook for good.

"Once the Padma Bridge is opened, Faridpur will be viewed as a model of development to the rest of the southwestern districts. Implementation of various mega projects will start in different places of the district after the inauguration of the Padma Bridge," said Nazrul.

"Besides, there is a possibility that a new division comprising five districts adjacent to Faridpur and named after the mighty Padma River will be created once the bridge becomes operational," Nazrul added.

Mayor of Faridpur municipality Amitab Bose said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has successfully delivered on her promise in spite of many national and international conspiracies regarding the construction of the Padma Bridge.

"Faridpur has been neglected for too long. Finally, we've started to dream for better things," added Amitab.

President of Faridpur Press Club and Editor of the local 'Daily Nagorik Barta' newspaper Md Kabirul Islam Siddiqui said that the Padma Bridge has been constructed to open up the door of socioeconomic development for the people of southwest Bangladesh, particularly for Faridpur.

"Bangladesh's independence in 1971 wouldn't have been possible without Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Similarly, the construction of the Padma Bridge has only been possible due to the firm leadership of Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina," added Kabirul.

President of Faridpur District Awami League Shamim Haque said that building the Padma Bridge was a great challenge and PM Hasina has overcome the challenge successfully.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Faridpur district Atul Sarkar said that while the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 1.23 per cent after the opening of the Padma Bridge, the GDP of Southwest Bangladesh will increase by 2.3 per cent simultaneously.

"Some infrastructural changes have already started to take place in Faridpur, including the establishment of 'Olympic Village' at the Faridpur-Madaripur border and the construction of 'Bangabandhu Space Observatory' in Bhanga. Faridpur is witnessing the possibility of immense economic prosperity due to the successful construction of the Padma Bridge," Atul added.

Trade to increase via Benapole port

Export and import through the Benapole land port will gain pace once the long-awaited Padma Bridge is inaugurated.

Goods will travel from the port to the capital Dhaka within a very short time, which will decrease the prices of almost every item, said Shamsur Rahman, President of Benapole C and F Agents Association.

Around 80 per cent of raw materials needed for various industries including the readymade garments (RMG) sector is imported through the Benapole land port.

The inauguration of the 6.15km-long double-decker bridge on June 25 and the subsequent launch of vehicular movement on June 26 will expand industrial production as well as the markets for different agro-products in the country's southwestern region.

Currently, the government collects around Tk 6,000 crore as revenue from the Benapole Customs House per year, which will increase to Tk 10,000 crore due to the addition of the Padma Bridge to the existing communication network.

Benapole Export-Import Association President Mohsin Milon said that a long-cherished dream of the Benapole port users is going to be fulfilled through the Padma Bridge's coming into existence.

"We thank Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for this much-needed gift to the business community of the southern Bangladesh. Businesspeople will be more motivated to expand their businesses as Padma Bridge will increase the ease of doing business and reduce the travel time between Dhaka to the southwestern part of the country,' added Milon.

"Padma Bridge will double the export rate of the country. The structure will also bring back the lost pride of the Benapole port," said Abdul latif, a businessman.

Director of India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries Motiar Rahman said that people have to spend at least 8-10 hours to reach Dhaka from Benapole right now.

"Hundreds of vehicles get stuck in long queues on both sides of the Padma river during the winter season. Students from Jashore and adjacent districts can't go to the capital for studies. Many patients die on their way to the hospitals situated in the capital. All of these scenarios will change now thanks to the construction of the Padma Bridge," added Motiar.

Joint Commissioner of Benapole Customs House Abdur Rashid said that at present around 10,000 travelers go to India via the Benapole International Checkpost every day. This number will increase to a great extent once the Padma Bridge becomes operational.

Commissioner of Benapole Customs House Md Azizur Rahman said that imports from India through rail networks have increased in recent years.

"Business with India will double after the launch of the Padma Bridge. Goods will be transported to other parts of the country via rail networks quickly, which will double the revenue collection by the government," added Azizur.

In Gopalganj, hope springs eternal around the bridge

Gopalganj is only 150 kms from the capital, yet, it was a hassle for locals to cross the mighty Padma River to reach Dhaka as a two-hour ferry journey was inevitable and even it turned into days amid bad weather and ahead of long holidays.

"I witnessed the tragic death of critical patients on the way to Dhaka. Those lives could have been saved if the ferry crossing did not take two hours or sometime five to six hours and more due to huge traffic at the ferry terminal," said Shafayat Hossain Molla, an ambulance driver of Gopalganj.

Daulatdia and Mawa, the two routes used by Gopalganj dwellers, brought a similar amount of agony for them, he said.

Locals are hopeful that now the the long-anticipated Padma Bridge will bring an end to their tragic stories of patients dying in the ambulance or traders facing huge losses as their perishable goods rot during long wait to cross the river.

Now it will take not more than two and a half hours in total to reach Gulistan in Dhaka from Gopalganj through Bhatiapara-Bhanga-Mawa route using the bridge.

Gopalganj is hugely dependent on Dhaka for trade, health services and employment.

The bridge might come as a great boon for the local traders as they have to bring many goods from Dhaka and Chattogram regularly as well as supply freshwater fish, vegetables and other perishable goods and a big portion of which used to get damaged on the way.

"The bridge will be a great relief for the construction material traders of Gopalganj," said Farid Ahmed, president of the district cement, rod, and iron sheet traders' association.

He said, "The construction material traders used to wait for days at the ferry terminals during unfavorable weather, Eid, Puja, and other celebrations as the pressure of passenger buses, private vehicles increased and they got priority while crossing. It used to create a shortage in the local market and also increased the prices, hampering different development works."

"Opening of the Padma bridge rail link project will boost trader through two south-western sea ports- Mongla in Bagerhat and Payra in Noakhali- and with the two land port- Benapole in Jashore and Bhomra in Satkhira- respectively,"said Kazi Jinnat Ali, president of Gopalganj district Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

"The bridge will boost businesses in the district as Gopalganj connects capital Dhaka, port city Chattogram , seaport Mongla and two land ports- Benapole and Bhomra," he added.

Md. Ilias Hossain, President of Gopalganj District Bus Owners Association, said," The inauguration will open a new horizon in connecting the southwestern part of the country including Gopalganj district with Dhaka."

"The bus owners here are preparing to launch modern passenger bus services soon targeting different tourism locations across the country," he said.

The inauguration of the Padma Bridge will be celebrated in 64 districts of the country simultaneously on June 25.

Ferry services to keep running

Ferries on Shimulia-Banglabazar route are going to stay for now even after the opening of the Padma Bridge next week, according to relevant officials.

The widely used ferry terminal named Mawa ghat (Shimulia-Banglabazar route) is likely to remain operational even after the country's longest ever (6.15 km) bridge opens to vehicular traffic on June 26, a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to declare it open at a grand ceremony on June 25.

At present, four ferries (Kunjalata, Kadam, Begum Rokeya, Begum Sufia Kamal) transport a total of 62,500 people and 2,900 vehicles per day through the Shimulia-Banglabazar route, while 21 ferries transport around 10,000 vehicles per day via Paturia-Daulatdia route.

Currently, only light passenger vehicles are transported via the Shimulia-Banglabazar route while goods-laden heavy vehicles are transported via the Paturia-Daulatdia route.

State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said recently that the ferry terminal at Shimulia will remain open even after the inauguration of Padma Bridge.

At least12 more ferries will be added to the Shimulia-Banglabazar route, he said, signaling that ferries will be kept operational even after the opening of the Padma Bridge.

He also hoped that demand for ferries will increase at the Shimulia Ghat in the coming days.

As the toll rate for using the Padma Bridge is almost 50 per cent more than the ferry fares, it is likely that a lot of commuters will keep using the ferries to reduce their transport costs.

The state minister also mentioned that a tourist-centric eco zone will be set up at Shimulia to generate employment.

"No one from the areas adjacent to the Padma Bridge will remain unemployed," said Khalid.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation ( BIWTC) informed UNB that they have a big plan centering the Shimulia ghat and its adjacent areas. One of them is to keep ferries operational.

BIWTC's public relation office said it has already taken some initiatives to redesign the area to make it tourist-friendly.

The authority also took a massive initiative to build a walkway for the tourists as the appeal of the area did not fade. Ferry services will accelerate the activities.

BIWTC Chairman Ahmed Shamim Al Razi said the ferries which are in operation in the Shimulia Ghat will not be stopped instantly as BIWTC needs to observe the demand of ferries.

He said that the authority will take decision to decrease the number if it finds the demand for the ferries to be low.

"We have planned to establish a river side park in the area including a museum to attract the tourists. A cruise ship will also be launched to preserve the lively mood of the area alongside the ferry operations," he said.

The authorities have planned to operate heavy-duty ferries with powerful engines between Shimulia Ghat of Munshiganj and Banglabazar Ghat of Madaripur to avoid any future accident at the Padma Bridge site.

The move came after a ferry struck pillar No 17 of the Padma Bridge near Louhajang on July 23, 2021.

The authorities informed that they were collecting ferries with powerful engines from some other routes for the Shimulia-Banglabazar route because of the strong tide during monsoon as it is hard to operate ferries at this time of the year.

The Shimulia ferry ghat is located at Sreenagar upazila of Munshiganj district on the northern bank of Padma River, a few kilometres from the iconic bridge.

The biggest and busiest terminal is situated just 50km away from the capital Dhaka.

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