The Financial Express

Maintenance mess leaves highways in a shambles

Even gigantic jump in allocations proves futile to ensure road repairs, rehabilitation, upkeep

| Updated: November 13, 2017 12:31:13

Maintenance mess leaves  highways in a shambles

Highways across the country seem to be in a shambles for neglect of maintenance despite a gigantic jump in allocations during five years, officials said.

They said there had been substantially increased allocation of funds for the road-upkeep works by the Roads and Highways Department (RHD).

Insiders said Friday lack of timely maintenance works, repairs and rehabilitation of the highways made those vulnerable for transport although most people use the highways.

Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges (MoRT&B) officials said the RHD received Tk 18.15 billion from the revenue budget in the current financial year (FY), 2017-18, 7.56 times higher than the amount five years ago in FY2013.

In the FY2013, the government allocated Tk 2.40 billion worth of funds for maintenance and repair of the country's highways.

Experts said the RHD should conduct maintenance and repair works properly and timely across the country to ensure smooth transportation and communications.

They fear that the authorities might not have taken initiative timely this year, too, to make the roads usable for traffic.

The RHD has nearly 21,000 kilometres of highways, including 'national highways', 'regional highways' and 'district highways', under its command across the country.

Officials said every year the budget for the maintenance works is being increased.

In the current FY2018, the allocation from the revenue budget has been enhanced by Tk 2.17 billion to Tk 18.15 billion from Tk 15.98 billion in the previous fiscal.

A couple of senior officials said the RHD in some cases diverts part of its funds from the annual allocations for the road maintenance to construction of roads and bridges although they could build those with money from development budget.

"Monitoring on the revenue expenditure is comparatively weaker than on the development budget. Since it is easy to spend money from the maintenance budget, the authority diverted the funds for the fresh construction, which created shortfall in the repair and maintenance funds," they told the FE.

Additional Chief Engineer of the RHD Abul Kashem Bhuiyan told the FE that they had not started repair and maintenance works in the first four months of the FY because of floods, heavy rainfall, and hill slides across the country.

"Until last month, the rains continued. Besides, floods and hill slide destroyed many roads and highways across the country over the last few months. Now we have already contracted out many maintenance and repair works. The works have already been started. The rest will begin soon," he said.

The ACE claimed they had inadequate funds for the repair and maintenance of the massive damage to the highways this year. It could affect their planned repair and maintenance works.

Over-axel load is one of the key reasons for the road ruptures, apart from the floods and heavy rainfall across the country this past rainy season, Mr Bhuiyan added.

Professor of Civil Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Dr Hasib Mohammed Ahsan said lack of proper planning and schedule maintenance is one of the key reasons for the dilapidated condition of the highways.

Besides, he added, overloading of different modes of transport on the road is the key reason for wrecking Bangladesh's roads.

The engineering professor suggested that the government construct quality roads and ensure schedule maintenance and repairs in a bid to overcome the current worst situation.

Mr Bhuiyan, feels the need of nearly Tk 40 billion this year to repair and maintain the damaged roads across the country.

"But we have received only some Tk 17 billion worth of allocations for the maintenance and repair of the roads this fiscal. So, how will we ensure a good shape of the roads across the country?" he asked.

Meanwhile, the finance ministry has already assured the RHD of handing out an additional amount of Tk 1.93 billion for maintenance and repair of the flood-ravaged roads and Tk 260 million for repair of the roads damaged due to hill slides in addition to the annual allocations.

The government allocated Tk 15.74 billion from the revenue budget for the highways' maintenance in the previous FY2016, Tk14 billion for FY2015, Tk 13.38 billion in FY2014 and Tk 2.40 billion in FY2013.

Bangladesh's major highways, including Dhaka-Tangail, Dhaka-Aricha, Dhaka-Khulna, Dhaka-Sylhet, and Dhaka-Barisal, are in the worst shape for a lack of repair and maintenance and rehabilitation works during this rainy season.

Transport of goods and passengers is seriously affected on these long-haul routes, sources said.

Conditions of the regional and district highways are worse yet with cracks, potholes and craters dotting all over the ways following neglect of repair and maintenance in time, sources said.

Jashimuddin, a bus driver on the Dhaka-Rajshahi highway, told the FE that he had noticed repair of the roads with some bricks, brickbats and sands during the rainy season which didn't last long owing to rain and huge rush of vehicles.

"I still see lot of potholes, cracks and small and large craters in many places on the road," he added.

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