The dream of establishing road connectivity between the southwestern part of Bangladesh and the capital has come true after the long-awaited opening of the Padma Bridge in June.
But it will take time to get the most out of the country’s longest bridge, as supporting infrastructure still needs to be built in the region, which is home to 21 districts.
The unavailability of gas, weak electricity infrastructure and narrow roads of Bhanga from Faridpur to the southwestern part are the major impediments to the industrialization of the region, according to businessmen and experts.
Due to the absence of a comprehensive government plan, an expected investment environment has not been created, they say.
“The bridge has broken down a psychological barrier among entrepreneurs regarding the transportation problem in the southwest region, so they are considering making investments,” said Selim Raihan, an economics professor at Dhaka University.
He co-authored a study on the economic impact of the Padma Bridge in 2010, long before actual implementation of the project took off.
According to the study, the economy of Bangladesh would increase by 0.33% to 1.26% per year and that of the southwestern region by 1.66% to 2.3% thanks to the bridge.
“However, the potential may not be realized or may take time to be tapped if the barriers to investment cannot be eradicated,” Professor Raihan recently told the Daily Star.
“Potential will not materialize automatically.”
In order to make the investment climate attractive for entrepreneurs, the economist proposed ensuring adequate supply of gas, electricity and land, widening of roads and elimination of red tape.
One of the government’s immediate tasks would be to put in place a new economic lifeline on both sides of the Dhaka-Kuakata highway as a matter of priority.
“Banks also need to come up with new programs,” added Raihan, also executive director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling.
ABUNDANT INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
Many local conglomerates have already acquired land to build industries, while many entrepreneurs are looking for horizons to invest.
For example, Fortune Shoes plans to set up a technology- and agriculture-based factory in Barishal by investing more than Tk 500 crore, its chairman Mizanur Rahman has said.
“The Padma Bridge has opened up opportunities for the South West region, especially Barishal,” said Sydur Rahman Rintu, President of Barishal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
As Kuakata Beach is closer to Dhaka than Cox’s Bazar, it would be a more attractive destination for tourists. As a result, more hotels will be created, said Motaleb Sharif, secretary of the Kuakata Hotel and Motel Owners Association.
The Khulna region has the potential for the development of various industries such as jute, export oriented shrimp, leather, salt, shipping, cement, rod, liquefied natural gas, walnut betel, coconut, vegetables, agricultural products and marine and dried fish. Industries.
Importantly, a number of tourism industries can be developed focusing on the Sundarbans, a World Heritage Site, the largest mangrove forest in the world.
GOVERNMENT WORKING TO IMPROVE INFRASTRUCTURE
The government is not standing idly by.
It has built four bridges to facilitate connectivity from Barishal to Kuakata, but the roads are still narrow, according to Rintu.
The government plans to upgrade the highway from Bhanga to Kuakata from Patuakhali to four lanes.
It plans to create economic zones in Hizla of Barishal and Patuakhali. The land acquisition process is not yet complete.
A land acquisition proposal has been sent to the prime minister’s office and the local government will start disbursing the money to the landowners after getting approval, Patuakhali Deputy Commissioner Kamal Hossain said.
Khan Jahan Ali airport will be located at Foyla Bazar on the Khulna-Mongla highway, 95 kilometers from Jashore airport.
The executive committee of the National Economic Council approved a project in May 2015. Construction was expected to be completed in June 2018. Initially, the government acquired 102 acres out of the planned 536 acres.
Talking about the current investment situation in Khulna, Pronab Kumar Roy, director of the Khulna office of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida), said that many foreigners are interested in investing in Khulna. However, their number is below expectations.
According to Bida’s Khulna Divisional Office, 103 companies have collectively invested Tk 17,140 crore from 2016 to 2021.
MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
“I think the global communication network is not up to the standard for investors. There is no airport in Khulna. This is another barrier to investment,” Roy said.
Sheikh Ashraf-uz-Zaman, chairman of the Greater Khulna Development Coordinating Committee, thinks hopes of wooing investment grew after the inauguration of the Padma Bridge.
However, the region’s development will only materialize if gas is provided and a smooth communication network is ensured.
Due to lack of proper development of Mongla seaport and land ports of Benapole and Bhomra, foreign investors will not be encouraged to come to Khulna region, said Kazi Aminul Haque, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Khulna industry.
“Even many local investors have set up factories in Dhaka due to lack of proper facilities in the area.”
The Khan Jahan Ali airport project is supposed to be built under a public-private partnership agreement. But Haque urged the government to settle down on its own.
“An Indian investor agreed to invest in the area but backed out after discovering there was no airport there.”
GAS, POWER SUPPLY HOLDS KEY
Unavailability of gas is a big problem in Barishal. The southern division does not have a natural gas connection.
“Electricity is available in the region, but the question remains whether it is able to provide uninterrupted power supply for industries,” Rintu said.
Thanks to the opening of the Padma Bridge, massive industrialization could take place in the southwestern part, which will increase the demand for electricity to 930 megawatts against 667 MW currently, said Md Mustafizur Rahman, chief engineer of the West Zone Power Distribution Company Ltd (WZPDCL). .
The company’s current distribution line is 12,425 km.
Construction of six substations and approximately 1,200 km of new distribution lines is underway in the Khulna-Bagerhat region. These should be implemented within two years.
Another 22 substations with new lines of about 2,500 km are under construction in the other areas under WZPDCL, which supplies electricity to 21 districts.
Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) has already constructed a 163 km gas pipeline from Bheramara to Kushtia to Aranghata to Khulna via Jhenaidah-Jashore.
The plan for setting up a gas distribution network has been taken so that Sundarbans Gas Company Ltd (SGCL) can supply gas from the GTCL transmission line to economic zones, export processing zones and industrial belts under the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) at Khulna, Jashore and Jhenaidah.
Md Salahuddin, Managing Director of Planning and Distribution at SGCL, said: “At this time, we will not supply gas to any particular industry. Plants must be located in economic zones or industrial belts.”
So, the government official asked investors to set up businesses in government-approved industrial zones to get gas facilities.