Man arrested for removing bolts from Padma Bridge in viral TikTok

Ahammad Foyez
2022.06.27
Dhaka
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Man arrested for removing bolts from Padma Bridge in viral TikTok Motorists throng the Padma Bridge as it opens for travel the day after the inauguration, in Dhaka, June 26, 2022.
[BenarNews]

Screw loose? A TikToker is in custody in Bangladesh for posting a video of himself unscrewing nuts and bolts from the railing of the Padma Bridge, and criticizing authorities for lax construction, a day after it was inaugurated with nationwide fanfare.

Bayezid Talha, 31, was one of tens of thousands of people who flocked to the bridge after it opened on Sunday, creating a two-hour wait at toll booths as Bangladeshis travelled en masse to marvel at the U.S. $3.6-billion structure widely touted as a symbol of national perseverance and progress. 

Thousands violated rules against standing or taking photos on the bridge, and visitor reactions ranged from kneeling in prayer to seeking relief from the call of nature, all of it captured by passersby and documented on social media.

At a press conference in Dhaka Monday, a senior police official accused Talha of using tools to unscrew nuts and bolts of the Padma Bridge railing before filming the 34-second clip and posting it to TikTok, where it went viral.

The young man was arrested in Dhaka at around 4:00 p.m. Sunday under the Special Powers Act, which criminalizes sabotaging or damaging government undertakings and carries punishments ranging from 14 years to the death sentence.

“It is impossible to unscrew the Padma Bridge's nut-bolt by hand alone without any tools. This is a provocative act,” Rejaul Masud of the Criminal Investigation Department told reporters. Alleging that others helped him, he said they, too, would be brought to book.

The young man’s political affinity was not immediately known, Masud said. Both the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) rushed to reject affiliation with him, and highest-level party officials issued denials.

Social media photographs of the arrestee with a former leader of the Awami League’s student wing “prove that he is close with ruling party people,” BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told BenarNews, after similar claims were put forth by Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud, an Awami League official, while speaking in parliament.

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Visitors who came to see the Padma Bridge the day after its opening take selfies, in Dhaka, June 26, 2022. [BenarNews]

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday inaugurated the 6.15-km (3.8-mile) bridge, which provides road connectivity for the first time to some 30 million people living south and west of the Padma River, and is expected to boost the South Asian country’s economy.

Addressing a rally at one end of the Padma Bridge, Hasina called it a symbol of the pride, dignity, honor and ability of Bangladesh, built despite what she described as many conspiracies aimed at preventing it.

“Ignoring many obstacles and breaking the web of conspiracy, today the much-desired bridge stands on the chest of the turbulent Padma River,” Hasina, also president of the ruling Awami League, told the gathering.

Members of her family and some colleagues “suffered extreme mental agonies because of the conspiracies orchestrated by certain quarters at the planning stage of the construction of this bridge,” Hasina said.

But “none could keep Bangalees suppressed,” she said, quoting a famous line of her father’s, Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Bangladesh had been planning to build a bridge across the Padma for two decades, but hit a bump when the World Bank in 2012 canceled a $1.2 billion credit intended to finance it, alleging that it had “credible evidence” of “a high-level corruption conspiracy” connected to the project.

Furious, Bangladesh pledged to build the bridge itself.

In December 2012, Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission filed a case against seven people for alleged corruption in hiring consultants for the project, but two years later it dismissed the case, saying it had not found any evidence of corruption.

Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, currently ranks Bangladesh 26 out of 100, on a scale in which 100 is very clean and 0 is highly corrupt.

“The Padma Multipurpose Bridge has been entirely funded by the Government of Bangladesh and no foreign funds from any other bilateral or multilateral funding agency has financially contributed to its construction,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement earlier this month.

The ministry clarified that the bridge was not part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although the bridge was built by China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Ltd.

Padma Bridge construction cost to recover by 2057

On Monday, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader told the parliament that the cost of building the Bridge would be recovered from tolls by 2057.

A total of 51,316 vehicles crossed the Padma Bridge on Sunday, its first full day of operation, and about $215,110 was collected in tolls, authorities said.

“Bangladesh Bridge Authority will repay all the loans given by the government in 140 quarterly installments in 35 years with the toll collected from vehicles plying the Padma Bridge,” Quader told parliament.

Motorcycles were banned Sunday until further notice, after two bikers were killed in the first accident on the Padma Bridge on the day it opened to vehicular traffic.

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