In September 2019 that gentleman, that is the DMP commissioner, went on retirement. We know that neither during his time, nor till date, was a single one of his commitments implemented. A large number of the buses on the streets are fit to be scrapped, but they are given fitness certificates and even if they don't have any certificate, they have no problems to run. The bus drivers rule the roads as before. Their arrogant actions are one of the main causes of Dhaka's traffic jams.

Many experts point to the inadequate number of buses. The 20,000 or so buses and mini buses are perhaps not adequate. But before the outbreak of Covid, I would regularly travel by bus. It was crowded at the peak office hours in the mornings and afternoons, as anywhere else in the world. But at other times I always managed to get a vacant seat. I feel that the number of buses is not too inadequate and simply increasing the number of buses will not resolve the problem. The solution lies in implementing those four commitments to enforce order and discipline. If that could be done, the net speed of vehicles on the city streets would increase. As a result, the same number of bases would be able to take more trips and provide service to more passengers. But it has been more or less proven that implementing these commitments is difficult. The owners and workers of the buses are part of the power clique. It is heard that along with political leaders, many police officers are bus owners too.

If the present WASA MD is actually incapable to resolve the problem, then let someone else be given the responsibility

II

Quite a few years back I had seen holes being drilled in the roads to lay down black synthetic rubber pipes throughout Dhaka city. I heard that germs would not be able to contaminate water passing through these pipes. Water would be clean and Dhaka residents would be able to drink tap water without filtering it. It was reassuring, though I was not fully convinced. It is not that the matter is impossible. Even in a developing country like South Africa, rife with racism, tap water is safe and drinkable all over.

But over here, for quite some time, there has been a volley of complaints about the water supplied by WASA being dirty and foul smelling. The WASA MD has quite a startling reaction to this. The present MD of WASA is quite an indispensable man. He has been contractually appointed to the post for 12 years, in five terms of different spans of time, and at a record high salary. He said that the water in his house is foul smelling too. It is evident that in this long time in office, he has not even been able to ensure quality water in his own house. When the MD is in this predicament, it is hardly plausible for the common people to bring about such complaints.

In the meantime, huge numbers of people were afflicted with cholera. I saw in the newspapers that a decision had been made to administer 2.6 million (26 lakh) cholera injections in areas of the city most affected by cholera. Cholera is a waterborne disease. Vaccinating people against cholera without fixing the water is like putting the cart before the horse. If the present WASA is MD is actually incapable to resolve the problem, then let someone else be given the responsibility. How much worse could it get?

If the bridge is constructed properly, then it should require no maintenance in five years. Are our engineers not competent enough for routine maintenance? Do we not have even the minimum confidence in our engineers?

III

The news headlines read 'China-Korean company to collect Padma Bridge toll'. According to the report, approval had been given for the Korea Expressway Corporation and China Major Bridge Engineering Company Limited, in a joint venture, to carry out the Padma multipurpose bridge maintenance and toll collection as service providers or operators on a five-year contract. They would receive Tk 692 crore 92 lakh for the purpose.

We have several large bridges in the country from which toll is collected. Bangabandhu Bridge, spanning across the river Jamuna, is 24 years old now. It is not comprehensible why the toll collection contract for Padma Bridge has to be given to a foreign consortium. What sort of rocket science is maintenance and toll collection that a Bengali doesn't even have the competence to do this! If the bridge is constructed properly, then it should require no maintenance in five years. Are our engineers not competent enough for routine maintenance? Do we not have even the minimum confidence in our engineers? It was a Bengali who designed the Sears Tower, which used to be the tallest building in the world.

IV

In March I visited Bangkok for a few days. The Bangladesh Biman counter wasn't very crowded. I boarded the aircraft 30 minutes before the schedule time for departure. No more passengers seemed to be left, but there were no signs of any preparation for takeoff. Then a few more passengers boarded. The time for takeoff has passed, but still there was no sign of any movement. Around 15 minutes later, three more passengers boarded and then the aircraft was prepared for takeoff. We took off half an hour late.

In 2008 I made an inadvertent mistake. At Dubai airport, you have to reach the specified boarding gate at least 10 minutes before takeoff. By the time I reached the gate, there was only two minutes left for takeoff. The gate had closed. They refused to open the gate even at the request of the ambassador. They took another 15 minutes to offload my suitcase and then the Emirates flight took off. I returned the next morning, following the rules. It is totally unjustified for a flight to take off half an hour late simply because some passengers failed to turn up on time or arrived late. It is unfair to the other passengers too.

The day I returned from Bangkok, the arrival hall was almost empty. A few remaining pieces of luggage from a Delhi flight were arriving and there was our Bangkok flight. There were no other flights. But the aircraft were small, each with less than 200 seats. It took Biman over an hour to get the luggage of these few passengers. The passengers were irate, but it made no difference. A relative of mine at one time worked on deputation with the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB). I asked him what could be done. His blunt answer was, nothing can be done. After all, neither the ministry nor the Biman head office were willing to displease anyone. The Biman staff would do as they please. That's the way it was.

If that is the attitude, even constructing a Tk 20,000 crore terminal will be of no use. Dhaka airport's reputation of providing the worst service, will not change an iota. If the quality of service is to be improved, certain stern decisions must be taken, no matter who this may displease. Is Bangladesh Biman or the civil aviation ministry ready to take such decisions?

* Md Touhid Hossain is former foreign secretary

* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir