I am, with both of my lower limbs sickly since retirement in 2003, a plain-living simple man now living almost isolated in a suburban area of Cumilla city. My domain of physical movement with the help of a walker or in wheel chair is within the four walls of my own house. If need arises, I sometimes go to physicians for medical check-up lying on an ambulance stretcher. Otherwise, I scarcely move outside home to experience the condition of the roads of the city I live in with my own eyes. I spent a major and golden portion of my life since my childhood in 1948 and up to 1983 and was educated in Dhaka. Naturally I feel quite nostalgic for the place where I grew up. Now most of my relatives and school, college and university friends and others dwell there. Everyone knows that Dhaka is now a clumsy city with the hazards of traffic jam and they scarcely go to visit friends and relatives because of that from one area of the city to another unless compelled by necessity.
So the question of inter-district move to visit relatives and friends scarcely arises, unless there is an unavoidable necessity. But on the occasions like Eid festival people leave Dhaka en masse to the cities like Cumilla off the capital and other towns and rural areas across the country. In doing so the trouble they need to take are watched repeatedly every year in the live pictures of electronic media and the still pictures accompanying narrations in national dailies and weeklies. Even after that it is during the Eid holidays every year that people travel home from their workplaces, and then after Eid back to workplaces.
The journeys of several million holidaymakers to their homes and back to their workplaces have been more torturous this time than previous years, because over 40 per cent of national highways are not in a good shape. A fatal accident on the night of June 17 this year on the Dhaka-Dinajpur highway killed ten boys. The incident has raised great concern about the conditions of roads and highways in the country. Experts say, as of now, 57 per cent highways are in a good shape while 43 per cent are seriously problematic. Besides, Bangladesh Police identified 158 damaged points, including bridges, in capital Dhaka and on national highways across the country. These hamper smooth vehicular movement across the country. There has to be immediate repair or reconstruction of the damaged points.
Under the circumstances this year some of my near relatives in accordance with my request came to Cumilla from Dhaka to share the joy of Eid with my family members. Despite the trouble they took during their journey from Dhaka to Cumilla, they were utterly frustrated by the condition of roads in Cumilla leading to my residence. They were full of complaints about the condition of the approaching roads to my residence. In response I humbly said we are to live with it and it is futile to complain about these to me. I am neither a minister nor a concerned authority to mend the roads they talked about. The condition of roads is very similar throughout the country and only those roads in the cities are o.k. through which the V.I.Ps move.
However, there should be no negligence in repairing the roads through which the commoners move. Even such roads across the country must be kept smooth and functional, even amid rain. The government has taken up five mega projects involving Tk 33.68 billion for developing and widening district roads in five of the eight zones in the country. The projects have been taken up for repairing the district roads that got damaged due to natural causes. The roads in a number of districts have been in a bad shape for quite a while. As I said above, there is public resentment over the poor condition of roads across the country. The public are raising questions about why many of the roads got damaged within a few months of construction. There has to be a crash programme to immediately repair or reconstruct roads across the country.
Developing the district road network is essential for our country where most of the common people travel in private and public vehicles. The mega projects taken up now should be undertaken with speed to help speed up the inter-district transportation of people and goods. The poor quality and absence of essential road connections and highways not only delayed travel but also caused accidents throughout the country. It is now vitally important that all road repairs should be undertaken just before the start of the mega-projects for the district road networks. The people of the country have to be enabled to travel safely, comfortably and quickly from various points in the country to their homes in towns and villages and to their workplaces. The government can, thus, get closer to the people of the country with an efficient road network. Moreover, the people can also gain more access to their leaders and elected representatives through safe and efficient road networks.
It is to be pointed out that in a country like ours, with a period of heavy rain in summer, the wiser decision may be to construct concrete-built roads rather than bitumen-coated ones which are frequently and easily damaged by floods, waterlogging and rain caused by the monsoon. We have learned by experience that the present mode of constructing roads in a country like ours is sheer waste of money and energy; maybe, it helps the dishonest contractors but it in no way serves the purpose of the people. Since rain, waterlogging and floods are frequent in Bangladesh and are beyond our control, so to cope with the situation we are to construct roads in a manner that can withstand these ills and the load of heavy vehicles.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.
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