Circular waterbus service a glaring example of failure and inefficiency

Rabindranath Tagore has said, “We commence, don’t conclude; we exaggerate, don’t work; we accomplish what we don't believe; what we believe don’t do it.” And we are wondering that many of our government agencies and departments have been following this prophecy word for word a hundred years later. They speak more than they do. And they exaggerate even more.

The government lunched circular waterbus services in Buriganga with much enthusiasm in 2004. In a sense this project is almost dead. Eleven out of 12 waterbuses lie idle and one carries passenger from ships at Chattogram port. Yet, assurances were made during the launch of the project that this circular waterbus service would ease traffic jam in Dhaka and people would arrive in their destinations in short time with an affordable fare. But the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has continuously been incurring loss since the waterbus project started. Meanwhile, a total of Tk 1 billion (100 crore) of tax payers' money had been spent, but what people received in return is very scanty. The revenue on the Gabtoli route was Tk 800,000 against an expenditure of Tk 4.1 million (41 lakh) in 2018-19 year. It’s a glaring example of failure and inefficiency.

According to a report titled “Water bus nipped in the bud” published in Prothom Alo on 19 June, irresponsibility and inefficiency has been proved not only of the BIWTA but also of all the government offices and organisations concerned. There was a plan to launch waterbus in five rivers -- Buriganga, Dhaleshwari, Balu, Turag and Shitalakshya, surrounding Dhaka. Waterbus was introduced on a 29-kilimitre Gabtoli-Sadarghat route as a pilot project.

River pollution and decline in navigability is the first and main reason for the failure of waterbus project. The Buriganga river bed has been filled up. While travelling, passengers had to use handkerchief to protect themselves from stink throughout the year except the rainy season. All the wastes of Dhaka city are dumped into the Buriganga. The second reason is that 12 jetties or landing stations for the waterbus were built in an unplanned way. After getting off the waterbus, passengers had to face suffering to reach the city because of the location of these landing stations. There is no connecting road between many of these jetties and the city. As a result, passengers were interested in travelling in waterbus despite the risk of facing traffic on the road. The third reason is an opposition from vested quarters. They also hindered the movement of waterbus several times. A ruling party leader, who controls both roadway and waterway, has allegedly instigated these unwarranted activities.

BIWTA is keen to launch circular waterbus service in Buriganga again. Before that, effective measures will have to be taken to protect river encroachment and pollution. It is necessary to keep river free from pollution not only for the movement of waterbus but also for saving Dhaka city that is populated with 15 million (1.5 crore) people. It is expected that all agencies concerned will solve their problems together avoiding the culture of blaming each other and waterbus starts running again.