The River Brahmaputra originates in China and it enters Bangladesh in the Kurigram district travelling through Tibet and Assam. From there, it travels in the name of the River Jamuna for 220 kilometres to join the River Ganga at Goalondo. The combined flow named as the River Padma flows for 104 kilometres to join the River Meghna at Chandpur. This length of the river has two major landing stations for ferries at Patura–Daulatdia and at Mawa–Jajira. The Ganga and the Brahmaputra river systems together carry about 1,400 million tonnes of silt a year down to the sea.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency made a pre-feasibility study in 2004 to recommend for a 6.15-kilometre Padma Bridge at Mawa, with a probable cost of Tk 8,588 crore ($1,200 million). The executive committee of the National Economic Council approved the project in 2007 involving a cost of $1,473 million. The government in 2009 said that the cost might go up to $1,800 million but in October 2011, it rose to $2,900 million or Tk 20,300 crore. The current estimate for the bridge to be completed in November 2018 is $3,692 million or Tk 30,193 crore.
According to the web site of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, progress made as of August 2018 was on (1) river piers: 40 piers, with 11 being completed; 298 piles, with 169 being driven; (2) 2 end piers, 32 piles, with 31 being completed; 3) 40 Jajira viaduct piers, with eight being completed; (4) 37 Mawa viaduct piers, with eight being completed; (5) 41 steel trusses, with 27 being completed, 17 at site and five erected.
The project made a progress of 57.5 per cent of the work. Although the approach roads on both ends and the service facilities are fully complete, the bridge is not going to be completed by November 2018. Definitely, the ending time is going to be deferred by several years and it is thought that it may be completed by 2022, but not still not certain. The main hurdle remains the river itself, which has very strong current and fathomless depths at some places, particularly on its northern side, where piling efforts failed to make any substantial progress. Progress so far on piling and the construction of piers are made on the southern sides over the charlands.
The Rier Padma was severely hitting the Mawa ferry landing station in 2013 with massive erosion. The construction yard for the bridge was also hit. The Mawa end of the bridge was planned with a 1.6-km bank protection works. Heavy protective works were done to stop the erosion. By the next year, a hard point was created to reflect the flow in the southeastern direction.
The River Padma is now eroding Akoter Char, Deukhali and Char Nasirpur unions of Sadarpur upazila, and Bandarkhola, Matbarer Char, Char Janajat and Kanthalia unions of Shibchar upazila. Its main flow then turns north-eastwards to hit the hard point of Mawa to get reflected into the south-east. We observe that the main flow of the River Padma is hitting the Naria upazila and causing severe erosion there. Erosion in Naria began about a decade ago, but its severity has, no doubt, increased because of the reflection of main flow at Mawa.
The progress of the Padma Bridge main structure construction has been made on the southern bank only, where the river erosion is approaching. It is likely for the erosion to hit the piers constructed there, where five trusses have been erected. We need safety of those piers. The Bangladesh Water Development Board has taken Tk 1,097 crore project to check the river erosion at Naria. But it must ensure that the physical work begins as soon as possible. The approaching river erosion on the southern bank of Padma Bridge will shift the main flow hitting the Mawa hard point to the chars of Louhajang and Naria within two to three years. So, any delay in the protection works at Naria might render the efforts futile; as by then, the erosion process will get shifted to the northern bank of the river.
M Inamul Haque is chairman of the Institute of Water and Environment.