Could Make a
Hossain, a middle aged vegetable seller, wears a puzzled look
as he learns that he cannot go to Aminbazar by launch. There
is only one launch and he has missed it for 15 minutes. Standing
in one corner at the newly built Swarighat BIWTA launch terminal
in an April morning Hossain waits for a few minutes before
he makes up his mind to leave.
is certainly not the first person to miss the Ashulia bound
launch that starts daily at 7.30 am from Swarighat. Over the
last one month the same scene has been played out again and
again, confides the ticket seller. "Passengers don't
want to believe us when we tell them that there are no more
launches all day," he says in a complaining tone. "The
number of passengers who miss the launch is often greater
than the number of passengers who can avail it," he adds
wryly. He says that the average number of passengers is 8
to 10 per day from Swarighat.
circular waterway, opened to the public around a month back,
does not seem to have brought about, what the government and
a section of media termed, a revolutionary change in the city's
wretched communication system.
would contest that Dhaka City's biggest worry is its horrendous
traffic that makes commuting a nightmarish experience. There
has been much talk to make Dhaka a commutable city. Some sporadic
steps have also been taken -- like giving some roads the VIP
status and making rickshaws off limits to those roads, setting
up two huge fly-overs in Mohakhali and Khilgaon, the recent
installation of the electric signal system and so on. But
nothing seems to be working to make life for the city commuter
a little easier. Clearly what is missing is a uniform, long
term, economically feasible plan that can cope with a city
that is expanding in terms of population without a corresponding
growth of infrastructure.
news of a circular waterway all around the city was thus welcomed
with exuberance and relief. Finally, it seemed to be a real
solution to Dhaka's greatest woe, its traffic jams. Conceptually,
most experts in city planning agree, a circular waterway is
the best answer to Dhaka's ever-growing traffic misery. So,
in the run up to the official inauguration of this latest
attempt to make the city's major spots more accessible, media
optimism ran high. The expectation reached a climax on March
2 when PM inaugurated the waterway highlighting infinite potential
including the most desired one of ridding Dhaka of its choking
then however, little has been heard about this grand solution,
all the hype over the waterway suddenly evaporated as hastily
as it was created before PM's launching ceremony. Over the
last one month since the first launch set out on its maiden
voyage the whole thing seems to have been gradually losing
its ability to excite the road-weary Dhakaites. General Dhakaites
appear almost unaware of what was advertised to be a revolutionary
step in city planning. Very few people have taken advantage
of the service and still fewer are holding their breath for
their turn. Moreover, it has not yielded, till now, any noticeable
results as far as easing the pressure on the Dhaka streets
is concerned, the ultimate target of the project.
why isn't this watery solution getting us all psyched up?
Well first of all, the system is not fully finished yet. Although
the waterway is supposed to encircle the entire city, so far
less than half of it has been completed. The 29 kilometres
long waterway from Sadarghat to Ashulia that has been opened
to the public last month is the first phase of the project.
Work of the second phase under which another 40 kms waterway
from Ashulia to Kanchpur Bridge via Tongi is to be built has
not even started. (The project file of the second phase is
awaiting approval of the ECNEC, and work will begin as soon
as next June, hopes BIWTA boss.). There are also other hindrances
that are not allowing the water route, as much of it is completed,
working in full swing, even after one month of the PM's inaugu-ration.
Preparations for the circular waterway to be in full operation
have not been completed. Especially, the BIWTA authority hasn't
managed to provide enough vessels for the route. There is
only one launch service a day one leaves Swarighat at 7.30
am and ends in Shinnirtek and another starts from Shinnirtek
at 2.30 pm for Swarighat. "BIWTA doesn't have any ship
on its disposal, so we are to depend on private owned vessels.
The launch owners are reluctant to come in this route because
they won't earn enough money, as the passenger volume is very
poor. The passengers aren't coming because vessels are not
available," Dr. Md. Reaz Hasan Khondoker, Chairman, BIWTA,
the more immediate objective of the project, that is, to ease
the pressure of the city streets by diverting a sizeable amount
of commuters into the waterway is yet to be achieved. Hasan
however refuses to be worried at people's lukewarm response.
"It has been just a month, people don't even know about
it," he says. Hasan then reveals that around 10 launches
are coming from April 12 and hastens to add that once there
will be enough vessels they will go for publicity.
Haq Chowdhury, Professor, Marine Engineering Department, BUET,
is not convinced. "When a system runs efficiently you
don't need publicity, the thing itself will act as advertisement,"
he says. He asks how can the government expect people to use
the water route when they are providing one launch in 24 hours.
"If they don't have their own launches they will have
to arrange for them. May be they can provide launch owners
some sort of incentives," he suggests.
water transport is certainly not the only worry. Three basic
things are needed for any waterway to yield results. These
are ports, also called landing stations or touching points,
a waterway and transport Haq says. He adds that if any one
among these is not working or not working well the entire
system is bound to suffer. For the moment the most apparent
shortcomings seems to be inadequate public transport, but
questions are also there concerning the waterway and the ports
waterway has in fact evoked a lot of criticism. Allegations
are there that it was done hastily without much thought being
given about the maintenance of required depth and width throughout.
But more serious allegations have been raised about dredging.
Dredging has traditionally been the preferred area for contractors
to siphon off money. A dredging machine can be run with varying
power and on its speed depends how much oil is being burnt.
Very often although the engine is run at its slowest bill
is made by showing that it were run at its highest by corrupt
contractors. When asked about reported corruption in dredging
Haq avoids to a straightforward answer. "It is not really
possible to say for sure if there was any mischief committed
as I don't have data on this. But corruption in dredging is
fairly frequent in our country," he observes.
the navigability, too, could prove to be another problem area
in the future. The water flow changes from season to season
and with it the depth and the width. Regarding navigability
Haq says, "We will have to wait for some time to see
how it copes with seasonal changes. Continuous monitoring
and arrangements for quick remedial measures should be in
place to ensure navigability of the waterway. I don't know
if they have developed any system for that."
however categorically dismisses any foul play involving dredging.
"I myself have travelled on quite a big two storied launch
a couple of days back and there wasn't any problem whatsoever,"
landing stations--there are 10 from Swarighat to Ashulia--are
not problem free either. The waterway, especially, has not
yet and perhaps never will be able to draw a large chunk from
the vast commuters who travel daily within Dhaka. It is not
possible for someone who lives in say, Arambagh to go all
the way to Swarighat to get on a launch and then after getting
down from the launch in Ashulia board a bus to go to Uttara.
The landing stations do not appear to have the potential to
attract a large number of passengers. If one lives in Tajmahal
road and wants to catch a launch from the nearest land station
in Basila he will have to hire a rickshaw for Tk 15 to first
go to the Beribadh and then get in a tempo and pay Tk 4 more
to reach Basila. Obviously such practical drawbacks are major
those who live along the water route like those in Shadarghat,
Banglabazar, Tantibazar area might consider catching a launch
from Shadarghat and these are the commuters who can be targeted.
"But for that to happen the connecting route from land
to the landing station will have to be in good shape,"
he says. Haq however, thinks the route will benefit cargo
transportation. The thousands of trucks that enter the city
through Gabtoli daily could be diverted to Aminbazar Terminal
and then the cargo could be ferried to the landing station
nearest the destination. This will have two possible benefits.
The transportation cost will come down and the pressure on
the city street will decrease to some extent. In fact Hasan
claims that a sizeable amount of construction materials are
being regularly ferried to Aminbazar and Ashulia.
also suggests arrangements for the cargo to be put in launches
in the same conditions, as it was when it was in trucks. It
will make the business people confident that their goods won't
go missing as the unloaded goods will be put on launches intact.
In that case they will also be spared of the cost for security
staff during unloading and loading.
have an inherent advantage over other modes of communication--Nature
has given it to us, we don't have to build it like roads or
railways. Communication through waterways usually costs half
or in some cases as less as one-third of the expenses roads
or railways cost. Visit any European cities and you would
find how they have maximised the utilisation of their waterways.
There are also canals across many of the cities which have
not only had tremendous effect on their transportation system,
but have greatly added to the scenic beauty of those cities.
"Dhaka, though endowed with natural waterways, we have
not only failed to take advantage of them but have strangled
them to death," Haq regrets.
we now see circular waterways being built it seems the city
planners have at last decided to redeem themselves. While
the circular waterway in its present conditions has shortcomings,
it has nevertheless the potential to deliver. It all depends
on how sincere the government is in making this waterway a
real solution to Dhaka's claustrophobic traffic.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005