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Development Or Delusion: B’desh Invests In 8 Megaprojects To Accelerate Growth

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History manifests megaprojects to someday become landmarks for a country by bringing transformational impact on the lives of the long-deprived people. Infrastructure-megaprojects are material drivers for accelerating the economic growth of developing countries, especially while in transition to developed countries. As Bangladesh is on the highway to be graduated from LDCs, it leads the country to adopt the much-talked megaproject culture — a tendency to combine multiple projects into one megaproject. Though Bangladesh’s success story, especially in managing funds for “big-ticket megaprojects”, has been applauded worldwide, criticism arises on the prudency of these investment decisions. How wise are these investment decisions?

By prioritising eight mega-infrastructures as “fast-track projects”, Bangladesh is essentially planting seeds for a sustainable future. These widely-discussed projects are Padma Bridge and Rail Link, Metro Rail, Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar Rail Link, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, the Coal-Fired Power Plant of Matarbari and Rampal, and the Payra Sea Port.

To materialise Vision 2041 of becoming a developed country, Bangladesh is giving a big push for timely implementation of its “flagship projects” since these are expected to raise the country’s GDP by 4% upon successful completion. Even amid economic fallout triggered by Covid-19, the construction of these megaprojects is going on in full swing to set the stage for economic take-off. The ongoing megaprojects are intended to make the country exceptionally rewarding in terms of economic margin and safe investment by upgrading existing physical infrastructure and creating an exemplary business environment.

The outlay of a big chunk of resources on long-awaited megaprojects results in the biggest investment boom in Bangladesh’s development history — showcasing economic rise and development records. These staggering projects are expected to transform the economic face of the country by opening new business horizons and acting as an economic development engine. For instance, the Padma Bridge will connect 21 southern districts with the capital ensuring a cheap and regular supply of raw materials needed for industrialisation; the Matarbari port will boost cross-border trade through facilitating speedy port service and integrated connectivity.

These “multi-billion-dollar projects” are duly weighted to generate sustainable returns from the land of Bangladesh. The government’s effort to mobilise the investors and donors to ensure “hefty investment” for megaprojects created a big financial space for hard infrastructure development. The country is trying to utilise megaprojects as a lever to turn it into lucrative investment destinations by offering tangible benefits such as logistics support and non-tangible benefits such as a competitive environment.

These signature projects, if properly managed, will successfully address Bangladesh’s infrastructure deficiencies, transport crises and power shortages in a sustainable manner. But the “iron law of megaprojects — over budget, over time, over and over again” created the “megaprojects paradox” — giving birth to two opposite schools of thought regarding their impact on the community.

One school criticises megaprojects, questioning their financial viability and complaining about cost overrun, environmental degradation and overburdening external debt. The other school, meanwhile, justifies megaprojects stating that the government usually conducts extensive “cost-benefit analysis” before reigniting any giant project and cancels any project if it is not economically viable or environmentally sustainable like when it scrapped the Sonadia deep seaport.

Investing in megaprojects to stimulate economic development has been one of the most popular policy instruments since the 1930’s great depression. Even the ‘Sustainable Development Goals Framework’ emphasised spending about $57 trillion on infrastructure by 2030 to ensure desired global GDP growth. Bangladesh envisaged implementing “large-infrastructure megaprojects”, even before Agenda 2030 was adopted to make the country “investment hotspot” of South Asia.

Image Credit: Facebook/Bangladesh Bridge Authority

‘East Asian Tigers’, in their early days of development, invested heavily in “ground-breaking megaprojects” to deliver economic and social goods to the masses. To give momentum to the economy and change the course of national progress, Bangladesh is following in the footsteps of ‘The Asian Story of Grand Success’ — a miracle of economic transformation. Bangladesh may also take lessons from the Gyeongbu Expressway of South Korea to generate optimum output from megaprojects.

These “high-yielding projects” will act as an economic game-changer through revenue generation for maintenance and capital accumulation for future funding to take the growth rate to a two-digit miracle number. These ‘trait making’, and not ‘trait taking’, projects will change the social structure and landscape by exploiting the “economies of scale”.

The gravest challenge is to address cost escalation due to snail’s progress, redress red-tapism to avoid a “debilitating effect” on implementation and prevent fund embezzlement to ensure that these initiatives do not turn into “leaky buckets”. These projects may go off the rails due to overcomplexity, overoptimism and poor execution that also needs to be addressed.

A megaproject is not the panacea to all the infrastructural deficiencies, rather, one of the best available alternatives. It is the responsibility of the government to confirm that the “cost underestimation and benefit overestimation” tendency is avoided while planning. Megaproject promoters, while promoting their pet projects, should be handled carefully since they may create a distorted hall-of-mirrors making the situation extremely perplexing to decide which projects deserve undertaking and which not.

It is the best project that should be implemented, not the one that looks best on paper. These epoch-making initiatives of Bangladesh, taken to date so far, is just the beginning of a journey; a journey that can shed more light on the path towards more prosperity.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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