Shohel Mamun: The lives of those who make their homes on the banks of the Padma River have seen their lifestyles undergo rapid change as construction of the Padma Multi-purpose Bridge at Munshiganj and Shariatpur begins.
Residents of the area, who never dreamt that they could make money on house rents, are now charging amounts that approach Dhaka rental prices to thousands of labourers working on the project.
During a visit to Mawa and Kumarbagh village on December 17 the Dhaka Tribune saw that local residents had constructed several commercial buildings and tin-shed houses to meet rental demand.
One house owner told the Dhaka Tribune: “Many people have expressed a desire to rent space, so I am constructing a dozen rooms to rent out on two katha of land which will be ready this month.”
Rafik, a labourer, said he and three others share a single room which costs them Tk2,000 per month in rent. He said he lived in Dhaka’s Mirpur area two years ago, and a similarly-sized room in the capital cost him Tk3,000 per month.
“So the rent of this room is much too high,” he concluded.
Despite rising land prices, most residents are loath to sell their land.
Nevertheless real estate developers’ sign boards are prominent on the Dhaka – Mawa road and give the riverbank the feel of an urban development site.
Twelve years ago, a bigha [one-third of an acre] of land in Lauhajong upazila cost about Tk1 lakh. Today, one katha [one-twentieth of a bigha] costs from Tk3 to 4 lakh, a sixty to eighty-fold increase in just over a decade.
The bridge project has fast-tracked development and commercial speculation in Munshiganj, Shariatpur and Madaripur.
For instance, the Dhaka-Mawa Highway has been proposed to be upgraded to a four-lane highway. The Mawa-Munshiganj road has been broadened to accommodate access to the new ferry terminal at Shimuliya, where it has been shifted from Mawa because of construction work on the Padma Bridge project.
The Mawa-Shimuliya single-lane road is being upgraded by the army.
At Kumarbagh, at the construction yard made by the China Major
Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) on the banks of the Padma River, crowds of people have congregated in search of jobs.
One of them, Monju Hasan, who worked on the Mongla Port project as an assistant surveyor, wants to do the same job on the Padma Bridge project.
He said: “I live in Munshiganj, but I have come here in the hope of landing a job.” Job hunters and small entrepreneurs have thronged to the construction site in the hope of capitalising on the new opportunity.
When the bridge is completed, more jobs will be created for the maintenance of the toll plaza and for cleaning and security operations.
Amid the mad rush for jobs, fraudulent placement agencies are doing a brisk business. Some have collected more than Tk1cr from poor labourers.
More than 19 districts will be served by it. When the Padma Multi-purpose Bridge comes into operation it is estimated that it will induce GDP growth of 1.23%.