Prime minister’s private industry and investment adviser Salman F Rahman, at a workshop at Nagar Bhaban of Dhaka North City Corporation on 14 March, said the Dhaka WASA’s sewerage system is ineffective, but it is collecting sewerage bills equal to water bills. Why will the people pay this?

At the event, Abul Kashem, director (development) of Dhaka WASA, pointed out that WASA's sewage system is very old and most of the sewage lines are ineffective.

An amount equal to water bill is being collected from the city dwellers against such an almost defunct sewage system. According to the Dhaka WASA’s income-expenditure statement, an amount of Tk 10.66 billion has been collected as sewerage bill from the city people between the fiscal year 20018-19 and 2020-21. It collected sewerage bills of Tk 4 billion in the last fiscal as well.

The waste produced from the commercial and residential establishments is normally sent to the treatment plants through drains and this is discharged into water sources like canals and rivers after treatment. In late 1970s, the authorities constructed sewerage drains in Hazaribagh, Lalbagh, and most areas in Old Dhaka; and in parts of Dhanmondi, Moghbazar, Lalmatia, Bashabo, Gandaria, Gulshan, and Banani. The other areas of the capital do not have any dedicated arrangements to dispose of the waste.

According to the WASA officials and engineers, the current sewerage system collapsed completely due to lack of renovation work. They said the Dhaka WASA collected around Tk 30 billion as sewerage bills from the city dwellers in the last 13 years.

Mujibur Rahman, sanitation consultant of Unicef and former professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said in his research paper last year that less than 2 per cent of the capital’s total sewage is being treated. The Dhaka city daily produces 910 million liters of sewage if the number of city population is counted at 10 million. Some 900 million of the waste goes directly to the freshwater sources without any treatment.

Talking to Prothom Alo, Mujibur Rahman said it is absolutely unethical that the Dhaka WASA is collecting sewage bills without providing services. For example, if a residential building is charged Tk 50,000 as water bill, it has to pay Tk 100,000 in total, including Tk 50,000 of sewerage bills. But the authority is providing no service against the sewerage bills. They, moreover, are polluting the environment as the sewages are going to canals and rivers.

In 2013, the Dhaka WASA prepared a master plan for sewage disposal, which mentions the existing sewerage system as defunct. The sewerage authority currently has three trunk sewers, the main pipeline for sewage disposal, across the city.

The eastern trunk sewers started from Asadgate and went to the Pagla Sewage Treatment Plant, through Tejgaon, Bashabo, and Shamibagh. The WASA master plan said the pipeline is no longer in operation.

Another trunk sewers started from Mohammadpur and went to Narinda, via Hazaribagh, Nilkhet, Segunbagicha, Purana Paltan, and Motijheel. According to the master plan, this pipeline is currently defunct and the sewage of the areas are being dumped in the nearby low-lying areas through drains.

The remaining trunk sewers ranges from Nababganj to Narinda, via Lalbagh, Jailkhana gate, Abul Hasnat Road, and Nawabpur. This line has been in operation partially.

The WASA master plan noted the fragile condition of the trunk sewers and said most of them have been decommissioned.

Manzur Ahmed Chowdhury, chairman of the National River Conservation Council, told an event held to exchange views on 18 May that the Dhaka WASA connected the sewerage line of residential buildings to the water drainage lines.

Dhaka WASA Managing Director Taqsem A Khan and Director Abul Kashem were contacted over phone for their statements about the defunct sewage system, but they did not respond. A written query was sent to the organisation through its deputy public relation officer AM Mustafa Tarek on 27 August, but no response was received until 5 September.

Dhaka WASA Board Chairman Gholam Mostafa told Prothom Alo that sewage treatment is not being done. It is quite depressing that a city of 20 million people has no sewage system.

However, he said several projects have been taken up regarding the issue and these projects should be done quickly.

New project to renovate defunct drains

The Dhaka WASA has taken up a new project to renovate the defunct sewage system. Under the project, the Pagla Sewage Treatment Plant will be renovated and 462 kilometers of sewage line will be constructed.

The duration of the project is till December, 2024. Its total cost is Tk Tk 38.55 billion where the World Bank is lending Tk 28.56 billion. The project, which started in January, 2020, has progressed 5 per cent till June.

Adil Mohammed Khan, executive director of the Institute for Planning and Development, an urban research and policy analysis institute, told Prothom Alo that having a pipeline is not everything, it must be effective. The sewage network is ineffective, there is no justification for charging the customers.