One time during hartal, I decided to walk from our office back to my residence, some 5km away. The trek easily stands out as one of the most memorable of my experiences on the streets.
This is how it opened my eyes to the new low that civic infrastructure has touched over time. I had to use two over bridges, one adjacent to The Daily Star Centre and another at Maghbazar intersection.
The first one that our employees often have to use has steep staircases on all sides with steps potholed in parts or frayed along their periphery. In one word, it feels like a hanging bridge. While climbing as well as stepping down the stairs you sense a danger of losing balance and falling over.
When the rains beat down hard on the overbridges, pedestrians with layers of mud stuck to their shoes and sandals are literally sliding down a slippery slope. Even when it is dry the thinly constructed bridge in its middle part is unstable.
The railings could be of some help, but undusted they soak in all kinds of dirt. A person with any sense of hygiene would simply balk at using the railings. They would much rather walk up and down firmly gripping the worn out steps with their feet than holding an ungainly wobbly prop. After the acrobatics have been achieved you may marvel over your physical fitness. There may even be an impish air of having achieved something, you are caught up in a sort of self-congratulatory mood.
The Maghbazar overbridge which I was using for the first time seemed even worse but one of my colleagues says the Farmgate overbridge is perhaps the worst of the lot.
But well, it was on Maghbazar bridge that I had some new heartbreaks lying in store. Negotiating the narrow, clumsy access as I stepped on the stairs, for a moment I had self-doubt whether I would at all be able to make it to the top. For it is just not the sheer steepness of the stairs but their wretched condition which could be off-putting for the brave at heart. I just pressed on, driven by a sense of adventure. Climbing those steps for the first time in my life I felt like a trapeze artist.
Even the road shoulder surfaces and pavements are undulating. With a brick or a broken slab here and a pothole there you have a constant fear of tripping over the dangerous side of road with speeding vehicles. Dhaka is so full of booby traps and unsuspecting minefields that you need a huge mine (or mind!) sweeper to clear up the obstructive protrusions and angularities.
A construction work in the public sector on the anvil, DCC engineers, supervisors and contractors have hit a jackpot! They cheat on design, material and construction process. Specifications are altered to suit the appetite for corruption. Hence, the precariously slender steps and the overall fledgling structure like a distended eye sore. Maintenance is in dire straits because it was not provided for in the shoestring budget.
The overbridges are built to help public mobility and serve citizens. But service to the people is the remotest of considerations for those who build them.
People need to ask for answerability from persons under whose charge public works happen to be. Taxpayers have the right to know how public money is spent. Civic resistance against poor amenities needs to be launched and improved constructions demanded. Voluntary organisations may join hands to make all that possible through formation of citizens’ committees to spearhead the corrective change in the life of the denizens.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.