85 out of 99 bridges in important waterways are low-height

Bir Muktijoddha Alhaj MA Majed Bridge (Ashulia Bridge) is of the lowest-height among the surveyed bridges
Khaled Sarker

A survey by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) found that 85 out of 99 bridges surveyed are blocking smooth river traffic during the monsoon due to low height.

Waterways are considered the cheapest and most environment-friendly means of communication. Stakeholders said the authorities in our country did not give due importance on the waterways. Moreover, the waterways are being rendered useless due to construction of low-height bridges.

According to BIWTA data, government authorities such as Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED) and Bangladesh Railways constructed those low-height bridges. Some of these bridges are still being built. RHD has recently constructed a bridge near Kamarpara bridge in Tongi’s Turag River, which is low-height. BIWTA sources have said the relevant authorities defied their objection over the height of the bridge. Another low-height bridge--Tongi railway bridge-- is under construction.

Officials of the relevant bodies said the government is even mulling over demolishing the low-height bridges and construct new ones. The government will incur huge loss in case of reconstructing these bridges.

Transport expert and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s (BUET) professor Shamsul Haque thinks these low height bridges result from the lack of coordination and importance given to the waterways.

“Transporting goods through waterways cost one-third of road routes. Waterways are the most important in the world in terms of sustainable development, followed by railways and roads. But the opposite has happened in our country,” Shamsul Haque told Prothom Alo.

He added that water, road and railways were given equal importance in the first five year plan of Bangladesh. But a whopping 90 per cent investment was diverted to roads later in a planned way with a view to creating market for cars.

BIWTA survey

BIWTA oversees the waterways of the country. According to the organisation, the length of waterways was around 24,000 kilometers at a time which has now shrunk to only around 6,500 kilometers. BIWTA does not have the full data of number of low-height bridges in the country. The organisation submitted a survey of 99 bridges in important waterways in 2021 found 85 of them are low-height.

BIWTA said no clearance certificate was needed for constructing bridges before 2010. So, there is no complete data on how many bridges were constructed without maintaining a standard height. The authorities, however, have taken steps to assess the height of 1000 bridges through a project.   

An initiative was, however, taken back in 1965 to set a standard height of bridge. BIWTA said a process to set standard high water level (SHWL) began at that time but no rules were enacted to this end then. Later in 2010, a gazette notification was issued defining the minimum standard height and length of bridges but it failed to mention the names of the routes. Another gazette was issued in 2018 mentioning names of 95 important water routes.

BIWTA chairman commodore Golam Sadeq told Prothom Alo that report would be sent to the government for action after identifying the low-height bridges. The government will try to reconstruct the low-height bridges in phases, though it will be a costly endeavor. He referred to a report submitted to the government in 2020 which estimated a cost of Tk 9 billion for reconstructing 13 low-height bridges around Dhaka.


Location of the low bridges

BIWTA survey found that low bridges were constructed not only on the rivers around Dhaka, but also on rivers such as Padma, Meghna, Bhairab, Gomti, Kushiara and Titas.

All five bridges on Sylhet’s Kushiara river are of low height. The SHWL of Sherpur bridge over Kushiara is 12.2 meter, but the bridge’s actual height is 7.81 meter.

Lalon Shah bridge on Padma river, Kamargaon bridge on Meghna river, Bhairab railway bridge 1 and 2, Daudkandi bridge on Gomti river, Homna and Ramkrishnapur bridges on Titas river are low-height.

The BIWTA surveyed 36 bridges on rivers and canals near Dhaka including 10 bridges on Dhaleshwari river, 2 on Buriganga, 5 on Turag, 10 on Tongi canal, 5 on Balu river and 4 on Shitalakkhya river. Of these bridges, 30 are low-height. These bridges prevented initiating a circular waterway around Dhaka.

Bir Muktijoddha Alhaj MA Majed Bridge (Ashulia Bridge) is of the lowest height among the surveyed bridges. The height of this bridge is only 0.67 meters while the SHWL for the bridge is 7.62 meter. RHD built the bridge. Additional chief engineer of RHD Sabuj Uddin Khan told Prothom Alo that the bridge was constructed in 1988. The bridge would be demolished during the construction of Dhaka-Ashulia flyover.

Regarding the low-height railway bridge in Tongi, the railways officials said the height of the whole railway track needs to be increased to increase the height of the bridge. Train cannot run if height of bridge is disproportionate with the track.

Among the 14 bridges that were constructed in keeping with the minimum height are Muktarpur Bridge on Dhaleshwari river, Buriganga bridge 1 and 2, Sultana Kamal bridge and Kanchpur bridge-2 on Shitalakkhya river. Bangabandhu Bridge on Jamuna river was also constructed maintaining the minimum height.

A no objection certificate (NOC) from BIWTA is required for constructing anything on waterways and on riverbanks. According to the BIWTA, they had a total of 338 applications of NOCs including for bridges and electric poles as of November last year. Of these, 75 applications received NOCs and 97 did not.

Several officials involved with giving NOCs said in most cases local members of parliament and political leaders lobby for keeping the height of the bridge low. These requests out the concerned officials in a dilemma. The officials also said that the construction of a bridge over the Lohalia river in Patuakhali has been stalled due to such height-related complications.

BUET professor Shamsul Haque said the people responsible for constructing low-height bridges should be held accountable.