The government on Monday formally scrapped the mega project of constructing a deep-sea port at Sonadia by revoking the Sonadia Deep Sea Port Authority Bill 2012 fifteen years after it was conceived.
The decision taken in a weekly cabinet meeting is a bureaucratic exercise since the ‘geopolitics’ scuttled the Sonadia Deep Sea Port, one of the fast-track projects in 2014, according to officials.
At a press conference at the secretariat after the cabinet meeting held virtually with prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair from her residence Ganabhabaan, cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said that the country’s first deep-sea port was slated to be built on Sonadia Island.
He said that the proposed Sonadia port project might endanger biodiversity of the island that is rich in marine fisheries and alive with the presence of migratory birds.
He also said that the country’s first deep-sea port was now being built at Matarbari in the Maheshkhali Island, less than 50 kilometres away from the Sonadia Island, with the financial assistance from Japan.
Located at 390km southeast of the capital Dhaka, the deep-sea port project in the Bay of Bengal was initiated in 2005 with the aim of easing the growing pressure of containers and cargoes at the prime sea port in Chattogram.
The Pacific Consultants International of Japan which was appointed for the techno-economic feasibility at a cost of Tk 10 crore, identified Sonadia Island as the site in 2006.
In May 2009, a government committee endorsed Sonadia as the best site for the construction of the proposed deep-sea port at a cost of Tk 42,000 crore in three phases by 2055.
China was showing interest in the construction of the port since its early stage.
On January 2, 2012, the present government adopted the
Sonadia Deep Sea Port Authority Bill 2012 to expedite the construction process of the port, said Anwarul Islam.
But the government backtracked from the Sonadia site, he added.
In 2014, prime minister Sheikh Hasina visited China and was scheduled to sign a framework agreement on the construction of the deep-sea port for an estimated cost of $14 billion.
The signing did not eventually take place as Bangladesh backtracked on it at the last moment.
A report titled ‘Dhaka cancels port to be built by China, India eyes another’ appeared in the Times of India on February 8, 2016, said that Dhaka had cancelled a port that China proposed to build at Sonadia.
If completed, it would have brought the Chinese presence close to India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, according to the report.
The cancellation of Sonadia sea port was clearly a strategic decision by Bangladesh, doubtlessly aided by India, Japan and the US, according to the report.
India, Japan, the US and Australia have been lobbying with the Bangladesh authorities seeking engagements with their Indo-Pacific Strategy, allegedly in an effort to contain China in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean areas.
Since the agreement between PM Sheikh Hasina and the then Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in May 2014, Japan has been investing at Matarbari to develop a deep-sea port and construction of coal-fired power plants under the initiative of ‘The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt,’ or BIG-B
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the BIG-B initiative is to accelerate industrial agglomeration along the Dhaka-Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar belt area and beyond, encompassing developing economic infrastructure, improving investment environment and fostering connectivity.
On March 10 of the current year, the executive committee of the National Economic Council approved the construction of a port at Matarbari at a cost of Tk 17,777 crore with the JICA providing Tk 12,892-crore as loan.
Planning minister MA Mannan said it was another dream project drawn up with the aim to facilitae the country’s growing exports and imports once it was completed in 2026.
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