Bangladesh’s first underground road tunnel, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Tunnel, is being built under the Karnaphuli River in Chittagong, the commercial capital of Bangladesh and the second largest city. Through this tunnel, the country’s port city Chittagong as well as Chittagong airport and seaport will facilitate and improve communication with Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts along with Anwara upazila in the south. Extensive industrial development activities are already underway on both sides of the Karnaphuli River around the tunnel, and construction of EPZs is underway, which will play an important role in the economic development of the country. Besides, this tunnel will reduce the distance from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar, one of the tourist cities of the country, due to which special changes can be noticed in the tourism industry there. So what are the economic impacts of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Tunnel?
Construction of Bangladesh’s first-ever tunnel at a depth of 150 feet in the middle of the Karnaphuli river started on 24 February 2019. Through this tunnel, the Anwara Upazila of Chittagong will be connected with the Chittagong main city, which is considered the commercial capital of the country. The tunnel will essentially transform Chittagong into a ‘one city, two towns’ model like Shanghai, China. The implementation of the project has been estimated to cost BDT 10,374. 82 crore, of which BDT 4,461.23 crore are being financed by the Bangladesh government, and the remaining BDT 5,913.19 crore is being financed from the Exim Bank of China. The government of Bangladesh will pay this amount with 2 percent interest in the next 20 years after the completion of the project.
This project is currently being jointly implemented by Chinese contractor “China Communication and Construction Company Limited” and Bangladesh Bridge Department. While the total length of this four-lane project in two tubes is 9.47 km, the length of the main tunnel is 3.4 km, while the length of the tube alone is 2.45 km, and the inner diameter of the tunnel is about 11 (10.80) meters. Besides, a 5.35 km approach road and 727 meter overbridge are also being constructed at both ends of the tunnel. Work is underway to open the tunnel to the public by December 2022.
Once the tunnel is built, the communication system will become faster and easier in Cox’s Bazar district, including Anwara, Banshkhali, Patia, and Chandanish with Chittagong city. The distance from Shah Amanat International Airport, which is located in the main city of Chittagong, to Anwara Upazila via Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar highway is about 34.6 km which takes 2 to 3 hours to travel. On the other hand, the distance of Bangabandhu Tunnel from the airport is only 2 km, and after becoming fully functional, it will take only 30 minutes to reach Anwara from the airport. After completion of the project, Chittagong Airport, Chittagong Port, and Patenga-Anwara link, as well as the under-construction bay terminal, Mirsarai Economic Zone, CUFL, Karnaphuli Fertilizer Company Limited, China EPZ, and Cox’s Bazar coal power plant will also be served via the tunnel and its approach road, which will simultaneously reduce both travel time and cost.
On the other hand, the distance of two different routes from Chittagong city to the tourist city Cox’s Bazar is 148 km, and 152 km, respectively. Moreover, the distance from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar by road is 398 km which takes about 9 hours to cover. By using the Bangabandhu Tunnel, the distance from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar will be reduced by at least 50 km. Cox’s Bazar district is located in the southernmost part of the country, and it is recognized as the tourist city of Bangladesh. Because, Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest natural beach, attracts about 10 million tourists every year, of which 17 percent are local tourists. However, one has to travel a long way to reach this tourist city from Dhaka or the north-western part of the country. Besides, since there is no international airport in Cox’s Bazar, and there is no direct flight from Chittagong Airport to Cox’s Bazar, foreign tourists often have to reach Cox’s Bazar by road from Chittagong Airport, which is quite time-consuming. According to a source from Bangladesh Bridge Authority, if the Karnaphuli tunnel is fully functional, the distance from Chittagong city to Cox’s Bazar will be reduced by about 15 km, which will further reduce the time of tourists as well as traffic congestion. Moreover, it will also help to further enrich the tourism of Cox’s Bazar.
Apart from Cox’s Bazar, the Karnaphuli Tunnel Feasibility Report has proposed recreational activities at Parkir Char on the eastern side of the Karnaphuli River and South Patenga on the western side, which is under the latest development. Coastal-related tourist facility development, existing Patenga sea beach upgradation, and new site development on about 1700 acres of land in the Char area of Parki are also highlighted in this report. An area on the west side of the beach will be reserved only for camping, picnics, annual sporting events, and other community events. On the other hand, certain areas on the eastern side of Patenga Road have been allocated for amusement parks. Apart from turning the area between the Chittagong airport and the industrial area into a water-based tourist site, the report also suggested developing a 1-km harbourfront public promenade from the airport to the naval installation. Chittagong will also become a tourist destination if the initiatives being taken for new development along with further upgrading of the existing tourist spots around the Bangabandhu Tunnel are completed, and it will further enrich the tourism sector of the country.
Apart from tourism, due to the Bangabandhu Tunnel, special industrial development activities are also going on in Chittagong. According to the Bangabandhu Tunnel Feasibility Test report, out of the 6055 acres of industrial area in Chittagong city, 5,188 acres of land is west of the Karnaphuli river, and only 867 acres is on the east bank.
As against 47 percent agricultural land in Anwara and surrounding areas on the east bank of Karnaphuli River, less than 2 (1.7%) percent of the land is used for industrial purposes (Manufacturing & Processing). However, about 9 thousand (8,981) acres of land can be developed as an industrial zone in the Anwara only after the tunnel is opened. Meanwhile, the Mustafa Hakim Group has set up a steel plant and an oxygen plant on the south bank of the Karnaphuli River at the cost of BDT 1500 crore surrounding the tunnel, which currently employs around 2,000 people. Apart from this, several companies such as Super Pharmaceutical Limited, Partex Petro Limited, Acorn Infrastructure Service Limited, and BN Lubricant are currently operational in the Juldha area of Karnaphuli. On the other hand, Bellamy Textiles, ATP International Limited, GSL Exports, Benchmark Apparel, and USA Battery Factory have already started their production in Khwajanagar and Ichanagar. Apart from this, a garment factory named “HS Composite Textile” is being constructed near the approach road for the tunnel, which is likely to provide employment to at least three to five thousand people. Besides, the country’s leading industrial companies like Akiz Group, Four H Group, Diamond Cement, S Alam Group, and Pertex Group have already purchased land in Anwara and Karnaphuli areas to set up their factories. Besides, the work of establishing the country’s first specialized G-2-G Economic Zone Chinese Economic Zone on 781 acres of land in Chittagong’s Anwara Upazila is underway, which will create employment for at least 2 lakh people after its completion. Moreover, according to a source from Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, more than 60 local and foreign companies have already shown interest in investing about 280 million dollars in this economic zone. By doing this, massive industrialization will happen on both sides of the entire Karnaphuli river around the tunnel. It will simultaneously turn Chittagong into a business hub and create massive employment for the people of Anwara and Patenga.
Besides, the Karnaphuli tunnel will play an important role in Chittagong as well as the overall economy of the country. According to the feasibility report of the tunnel, the tunnel will directly contribute 0.166 percent to the country’s GDP every year for the next 50 years. Because, once the tunnel is completed, Chittagong port, one of the country’s commercial ports, and Matarbari deep sea port will benefit directly. According to the Karnaphuli Tunnel Feasibility Report, the cargo handling capacity of the port will increase to 320 million tonnes per annum by 2055 after the Matarbari Deep Sea Port becomes operational. From there, the Dhaka-Chittagong highway has to be used to transport these goods by trucks to different parts of the country.
This will increase the pressure on the two bridges located on the Karnaphuli river starting from Chittagong city. Besides, additional congestion will increase transportation time and cost. But, if the tunnel is used for transporting the same goods, the heavily loaded trucks can be transported to different parts of the country in less time, in addition to reducing traffic congestion. Besides, the factories which have been built and are currently under construction in Anwara, the eastern end of Karnaphuli River, the imported raw materials can be easily transported to these factories from Chittagong airport or seaport. Also, the tunnel will make communication and transportation easier. So, exporting those products through Chittagong port and airport will be more easier, and moving those goods to Dhaka or further northwestern part of the country will also become convenient and time-saving. It will help in making the economy of the country more dynamic. According to the concerned authorities of the project, after the tunnel becomes fully functional, 17 thousand vehicles per day and around 50 lakh vehicles will travel through the tunnel in the first year.