The unholy alliance must be smashed

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) is responsible for constructing the roads that connect major cities with capital Dhaka. And the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) builds all other roads across the vast area of Bangladesh. There is a stark different between the two, like the dark area under the bright light.

The government does not pays as much attention towards the roads constructed by LGED as it does to the RHD-built roads. Some of our roads are being dubbed as Highway Expresses, while on the contrary most roads under the management of LGED are narrow and filled with potholes.

A Prothom Alo report of 3 September stated that a significant portion of the rural roads managed by LGED is in a pitiful shape. Information from the agency shows that more than 25 per cent of the roads are completely unfit for use. LGED however has spent Tk 65.28 billion on the maintenance of roads in past three fiscal years, which was taken out of the revenue.

According to LGED records, Tk 23.32 billion and Tk 24.3 billion were allocated for the refurbishment of rural roads, respectively in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years.

Though there is an allocation of Tk 30 billion for this in the current fiscal year, it’s hard to say how much of that money will ultimately be spent, as the government is cutting down on the development projects to deal with the blow of the Ukraine war.

Experts believe, new roads usually aren’t renovated within five years of construction. But, the state of our RHD-built or rural roads are so deplorable that they start breaking at places within a year or so of construction. The roads turn awful in just two to three years .

As per the classification of the government’s national road transportation system, the responsibilities of all roads in the upazila and union level across the country rely solely on LGED.

They are also responsible for the development and maintenance of the rural roads. The agency currently has 330,831 kilometres of road under its management. And, only 45 per cent of that road is paved leaving the other 55 per cent earthen.

Where the government is claiming to have brought a revolutionary change in road connectivity, it is downright unfortunate that 55 per cent of the rural roads still remain unpaved. It must be acknowledged that there are loopholes in government’s planning itself.

If we wish to pass on the benefits of development to the people, then there has to be a balanced development. Local people’s daily lives as well as the speed of their economic activities depend on the rural roads. If rural connectivity is improved, products produced there can easily go to the cities and vice versa.

LGED engineers say, it is prohibited to transport goods weighing more than 8.2 tonnes on the upazila and union level roads while the bar lowers to 5 tonnes in case of rural roads. But in actuality, vehicles weighing more than that are plying on these roads. In addition to that, excessive rain, unbound pond edges and natural disasters like floods are causing the road damages to increase.

There must be a reality to this statement of the engineers. But, what about the corruption, wastage and arbitrariness on every step of the construction and maintenance work of the rural roads?

There’s some kind of intrigue between the project-related officers and the contractors. Therefore, roads are constructed using cheap-quality materials. In many cases, those responsible for holding people accountable are helpless too. Unless this vicious cycle of intrigue is broken, the miserable state of the rural roads will remain the same.