Low-height bridges: Take stern actions against those responsible

Prothom Alo published a report on 15 January titled 'BIWTA's survey/85 out of 99 bridges in important waterways are low-height'. The report revealed utter lack of coordination between the organisations responsible for the three main means of communication - waterways, roads and railways. The organisations did not even follow the minimum regulations while building the bridges.

According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) survey, 85 out of 99 bridges are built low-height. Government institutions like Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and Bangladesh Railways are building low-height bridges one after another. Such bridges made it difficult to keep the country's waterways operational. Especially during monsoon, when the water level rises, the water transports cannot move freely.

Waterways are considered the cheapest and the most environment-friendly means of communication. It was once the main communication means in riverine Bangladesh. Later, roads and railways were expanded. In 1965, an initiative was taken to determine the height of the bridge to protect the waterway, but it has not been implemented so far.

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BIWTA says work on the waterway then started to fix the gap between the 'standard high water level' or between the highest level of the water surface and the structure below the bridge. But there are no rules regarding this. In 2010, a regulation was made in this regard and it was issued in the form of a gazette notification. It mentioned 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.

According to BIWTA data, low-height bridges have been constructed by RHD, LGED, Bangladesh Railways. It is not that the people in charge of these organisations are not aware of the rules of bridge construction. Sometimes it does not require BIWTA clearance. BIWTA also does not have the manpower to oversee the matter that eventually results in such anarchy and chaos in the name of bridge construction.

Transport expert and Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET) professor Shamsul Haque termed the issue as resulted from lack of coordination. There is not only lack of coordination but also irresponsibility of the people concerned. Many officials of the organisations work arbitrarily.

Waterways are considered important for sustainable development across the globe. But the surprising thing is that in the name of development of road communication, the waterway in Bangladesh has remained neglected. The government ministers had taken the initiative to run water vehicles in the rivers around Dhaka, but later it was found that some of the bridges were built at such a low height that boats could not move under them during the monsoon.

Ghosts did not construct these bridges. Those who approved of such constructions, are or were in responsible positions in the government organisations. The construction of 85 low-height bridges needs to be investigated. Those who flouted rules should be held accountable. Punitive action should be taken if necessary. No one, no matter how powerful the position is, has the right to stop waterways in the name of road development.