Every year budget allocation is being increased for developing road infrastructure to improve communications, indicating the government’s focus on the sector over the last nine years over 460 billion taka was spent in the construction and development of roads and highways. In the 2017-18 fiscal, over 937 was spent in the sector.
However, despite this huge expenditure, the country’s roads and highways remain in shambles. According to the World Bank’s Bangladesh Development Update 2019, Bangladesh falls behinds all South Asian countries except Nepal when it comes to the quality of roads. Bangladesh scores 35.2 out of 100 in this regard, above only Nepal’s score of 27. Sri Lanka scored 46.7, India 57.4 and Pakistan 49.1 points. Where overall infrastructure is concerned, Bangladesh stands at 109 among 140 countries.
The central road research report also provides a poor report on the road system. The government’s Highway Development and Maintenance (HDM) reports says that there are 2528 km of ‘weak’ roads, 1282 km of ‘bad’ roads and 1843 km of ‘very bad’ roads in the country. Experts feel the use of low quality material in the construction and repair of the roads has led to this predicament.
Nepal has a hilly terrain where it is difficult to construction durable roads. But Bangladesh is almost entirely flat land, expect for the three hill districts. If the roads are so dilapidated, the responsibility lies with the roads and highways department. The corruption and irregularities in the sector are obvious. Experts say that many conditions required for road construction are ignored. Lack of proper maintenance also weakens the road network.
The World Bank report correctly stated that huge allocations for the development of roads and highways are not enough. Maintenance of the existing infrastructure must be ensured too. There is always a flurry of repairs before the two Eids and during the rainy season. The excuse is that the authorities do not release the funds in time. This is hardly a credible excuse. Contractors often intentionally delay the work to push up costs and they reportedly are in collusion with certain officials involved in the related projects.
Bangladesh’s road construction costs are much higher than in neighbouring countries. The government claims that low lying land and acquisition costs are high, pushing up construction expenditure. This may be partially true, but not entirely. Labour is extremely cheap. Local construction material is also relatively low priced. There is no reason for such unreasonably exorbitant costs in road and bridge construction, other than correction.
Every year the demand for transport goes up by 10 per cent and this requires further development of the road network. But excessive dependence on the roads must be reduced. At one time rivers and railway were the main mode of communication in the country. These modes of communication must be development in addition to the roads in order to meet the present day’s burgeoning demands.
Corruption and irregularities must be clamped down upon in order to bring transparency and accountability to road construction.