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The feasible way of connecting the tunnel with deep-sea port

October 28, 2023 00:00:00

Following are the full excerpts of the interview:

1) How will the communication sector benefit from opening of the Bangabandhu tunnel?

Ans: On opening of the Bangabandhu Tunnel, the communication will ease between two major economic corridors of Bangladesh--Cox's Bazar-Chattogram and Chattogram-Dhaka. It will save the time (40-60 minutes) of movement between the two economic corridors. It will reduce the distance as well between Dhaka and Cox's Bazar by at least 35-40km, bypassing the Chattogram city. Thus both time and distance will decline.

In addition, it will be an alternative to the two existing bridges connecting Chattogram and Cox's Bazar and therefore, it will reduce traffic pressure on the two bridges and can be used as a piece of continuity infrastructure, if the bridges get damaged in any natural disaster to which Chattogram is very vulnerable.

It will also help segregate cargo and passenger traffic on two different routes. Non-Chattogram city-bound major cargo vehicles will always use the tunnel, bypassing the city while passenger vehicles will take the bridge route to move towards Chattogram for stoppage.

2) Is it possible to make Chattogram one city with two towns as in China?

Ans: Yes, it is definitely possible. The 'One City, Two Towns' concept has been there for centuries. The Hungarian capital 'Budapest' in Europe is actually a city of twin towns named Buda & Pest merged by a chain bridge back in 1849. We may see the same in Chattogram too.

The Chattogram Development Authority's (CDA) new ongoing Master Plan covers the most part of Anwara and Patiya on the other side of the tunnel while on the city side it expands to Kumira. With appropriate urban and industrial planning we can transform Chattogram into an attractive city with twin towns on both sides of the river each having a good length of the shoreline.

As of now, we understand that the Anwara part will largely be a new industrial zone along with few tourism spots. Alongside the Korean Export Processing Zone, the BEZA is also constructing the China Economic & Industrial Zone (CEIZ) at Anwara. Individual business owners are also acquiring plots for industrialisation.

I think, according to the draft map of the new Master Plan, the shoreline will be around 50-60km, from which if we keep aside the port, terminal, shipyards and other current pieces of infrastructure, there will still be around 20-30km of the shoreline available for consideration under the new planning. These shorelines can be used for the purposes of tourism, coastal agriculture, coastal fisheries, aquaculture and even for other industrial purposes such as private jetty. But for that, proper cluster planning and allocation must be made in the Master Plan.

So the Master Plan must be completed on time and it should have a clear direction about urbanisation of this new town of Chattogram. We should not repeat the mistakes as we did in Chattogram city. The Master Plan needs to address the issues of waterlogging and drainage as in the Chattogram city. For the new town on the other side of the tunnel, the Master Plan should clearly define industrial, residential, agricultural and tourism areas. The local authorities should not approve projects randomly of their own accord and should comply with the Master Plan.

I think the CDA needs a higher budgetary allocation to develop a detailed Master Plan. As we heard, the budget for Cox's Bazar Master Plan is Tk 2.0 billion (200 crore) while for Chattogram it is only Tk 350 million (35 crore). This needs to change. Chattogram is the most important city of the country in view of the economy. The budgetary allocation should have been much higher than that in Cox's Bazar. In addition, the CDA must hold consultation with the stakeholders before finalising the Master Plan. The CDA should sit with public representatives, business community, etc. If the Master Plan of Chattogram remains at the conceptual level only and does not have enough appropriate details for its implementation due to technical or financial constraints, the dream of 'One City, Two Towns' will not be practically materialized. Chattogram has many natural advantages so that it can be built as 'One City, Two Towns', but without proper planning this cannot be translated into reality.

Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is remaining true to her pledge of transforming Chattogram, has implemented many mega projects in Chattogram. The Bangabandhu Tunnel, South Asia's only underwater road tunnel, is going to be recognised as a landmark of the port city. It will remain so over the next century and beyond. Today's young generation hasn't truly seen our struggle for freedom in 1971 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman but they are enjoying the dividend of this independent country after 50 years of Independence. The young generation of 2070 will never truly know the challenges our Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina faced to build this country, but they will enjoy its benefits as proud citizens of a developed Bangladesh. That is what visionary leaders like Bangabandhu and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina do; they create and build for generations to leverage and prosper. Their legacy remains within their contributions, giving the nation hope and strength for generation after generation.

3) Do you think that, on opening of the Bangabandhu tunnel, foreign investments will increase in Chattogram and industrialisation will be expanded upto southern Chattogram?

Ans: In today's competitive global investment climate, logistics efficiency is a pre-requisite to attract foreign investment. The Bangabandhu Tunnel will significantly increase logistics efficiency through reducing distance, time and cost. And Chattogram is already an attractive destination for foreign investors due to its natural and geographical advantage. So the Bangabandhu Tunnel will surely help attract foreign investment and accelerate industrialisation in this south-eastern belt of Chattogram.

Japan repeatedly mentions Matarbari and Chattogram as their priority destinations for investment. Korea has built the Korean Export Processing Zone at Anwara just on the other side of the tunnel. This will be a textile and MMF (manmade fibre)-based apparel manufacturing hub along with a special IT park. The BEZA in partnership with China is building the China Economic & Industrial Zone (CEIZ) there as well. That will host industries from sectors like chemical, automobile assembly, garments and electronics. At the Maheshkhali Economic Zone, the BEZA has already allotted 510 acres of land to a joint venture between Bangladesh and Korea to build a petrochemical production base and an LPG terminal. Many local private sector business owners are acquiring plots for industrialization in Anwara upazila.

However, as the Bangabandhu Tunnel is ready to start operation, we need to accelerate facilitation for industrialisation in the south-eastern belt. For this, completion of a detailed CDA Master Plan and approval of industrial plots need to be in sync and faster. And, most importantly, utility connections must be ensured as soon as possible.

Optimum utilisation of the tunnel's benefit depends on industrialisation which, in turn, depends on quicker facilitation from the government in terms of approvals and utility services alongside other port and customs facilities.

So, yes, to ensure the tunnel's logistical efficiency, it needs to be supported with other intangible but equally important facilitation and services from the government. So to make the tunnel economically feasible, we need to ensure faster industrialisation in the south-eastern belt without any sort of regulatory bottleneck.

4) Do you think the elevated expressway, Chattogram ring road and also the Bangabandhu tunnel can change the communication system?

Ans: Yes, to leverage optimum benefit in its true sense from one piece of logistical infrastructure, its tertiary and related other logistical infrastructure must also be developed in synchronization to achieve the maximum efficiency. And Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has certainly made this investment as a part of a mega plan to transform Chattogram into an international logistics hub. Under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the National Logistics Policy development committee is also working now. So, instead of seeing its feasibility through singling it out as one piece of infrastructure, it needs to be seen as part of the bigger logistics infrastructure plan.

The elevated expressway between Dhaka and Chattogram is very critical. Expanding the Dhaka-Chattogram highway has short-term benefits. Cargo traffic is bound to increase after full operationalisation of the Matarbari deep-sea port and other industrial zones in Maheshkhali, Anwara, Mirsharai, Cumilla, etc. So, the expansion will not be enough to reduce traffic congestions. Because, there is also a large population residing in this corridor and, therefore, passenger movement will be high as well and there will be congested junctions on the highway. This outcome is very imminent.

So, for the long-term an expressway from Dhaka to Chattogram is essential for cargo vehicle movement. And that expressway should be built keeping in mind the required load bearing capacity of the road. The existing axle-load restriction on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway is already stifling Chattogram's businesses a lot, though such restrictions are not there on any other highway in Bangladesh. So, this sort of unfair regulatory restrictions should be withdrawn, otherwise businesses will not invest in the Chattogram region and that may result in underutilisation of many of the government's mega infrastructure pieces, including tunnel.

5) Given that there is already a link road planned to connect Matarbari Deep-sea Port with the Ctg-Cox Highway (N1), should the deep-sea port and the Bangabandhu Tunnel be directly connected?

Ans: Yes, in my opinion, the Matarbari Deep-sea Port and the Bangabandhu Tunnel should be directly connected. The present plan of the government is to connect the Matarbari Deep-sea Port with the Ctg.-Cox's Bazar Highway (N1) through Chakaria's Fashikhali point via an approximately 26km link road. The problem with this link road plan is it doesn't reduce the distance and time for cargo vehicle movement from the Matarbari port to Chattogram or the Chattogram-Dhaka Highway. It will also create traffic congestions on the national highway. However, a connection with the national highway may be generally important as the government is expanding the Ctg-Cox N1. But from a commercial and business point of view it doesn't look like adding value as there is no net gain in distance.

For commercial and business purposes, the Matarbari Deep-sea Port and the Bangabandhu Tunnel should be directly connected. A bypass expressway between the Matarbari Deep-sea port via the Bangabandhu Tunnel connecting Chattogram and the Dhaka-Ctg Highway will be more effective.

There are two options the government can think about. The first option is, I have heard the government has a plan to build a direct road between Chattogram and Cox's Bazar via the Bangabandhu Tunnel expanding R170 i.e. current Anwara-Banshkhali-Pekua road going straight towards Chakaria-Eidmoni-Khurushkul to Cox's Bazar. This new road will reduce the distance to Cox's Bazar by at least 35-40km. On this same new road, I propose to build a bypass expressway direct connection to the Matarbari port from Banshkhali's Napura Bazar or Pekua's Tointong Bazar point. The bypass can reduce a 20-25km road distance between the deep-sea port and the Chattogram city or BSMSN at Mirsharai via the Bangabandhu Tunnel.

Alternatively, the second option is the government can also consider building a direct expressway from Anwara to the Matarbari Deep-sea Port near the coastline. This will reduce the distance by at least 40km.

So, both these two options will reduce the distance and time significantly and bring cost efficiency in logistics via directly saving dollars for additional fuel. On top of this, the barren non-cultivable underprivileged region near the shoreline of this eastern coast can get uplifted socio-economically.

6) What is the impact of the modern communication system like the Bangabandhu tunnel on the economy?

There is a massive impact of the Bangabandhu Tunnel on the economy. First of all, improvement in logistics efficiency will help attract investment from both foreign and domestic sources in industrial, tourism and agricultural sectors. And we can sense that this is becoming a reality now. Investment will lead to higher jobs and production and increased exports and the government's revenue income.

I think this tunnel will also help boost the fisheries sector as well. The shrimp farmers on the south-eastern side, especially in Banshkhali, Chakaria and Maheshkhali, can reach the Chattogram airport quickly via the tunnel as the distance from the tunnel's city point to the airport is around 5.0km.

In addition, it is a big image lifter for the economy and the national capacity. It can become a signature landmark of the Chattogram city and certainly be a post-card imagery much like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

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