That footpaths in Dhaka are encroached upon despite occasional eviction drive is nothing new. Nor was it uncommon in recent past to occupy spaces on both sides of foot overbridges at busy points. However, hawkers were evicted from some of these bridges following construction of fences of steel grills to stop jaywalking by pedestrians underneath. Such heavily fortified roadsides are now the segments of the road running between Gawsia and New Market where the foot overbridge stands.
Wonder of wonders, the footoverbridge mostly gets awfully encroached upon by hawkers causing enormous encumbrance to movement of passers-by, particularly women and children. The foot overbridge was under such illegal occupation for years together. But then some pedestrians felt compelled to take risk in crossing the road underneath. Now there is no such option but the authorities which have all along urged the pedestrians to use the foot overbridge have washed off their hands from the duty of keeping the facility free of encroachment. This is double standard.
The saga of foot-overbridge occupation has been marked by varied nature and indifference to it by the authorities concerned. First, a few of the early such infrastructures built with rod, cement and sand have witnessed no sweeping during their entire life span. Dust, torn papers, polythene bags and all kinds of discarded rubbish gather there until winds blow some of those away. If hawkers or floating people have to use spaces on those, they have to clear their portions for display of their wares or use. The foot overbridge at Shyamoli long suffered such neglect.
Some of the foot overbridges were constructed on wrong sites so much so that they turned out to be ideal places for drug taking by addicts. Beggars, floating people and drug addicts made a few such foot overbridges their permanent shelter. For the unsuspecting few users, one or two of those simply became a nightmare. Even at daytime the drug addicts used to inhale substances. To make the matter even more nauseating, the illegal occupiers even used to relieve themselves right on the foot overbridge floor. Filthy and stinking all around, it was hellish to negotiate for one who started stepping on one such infrastructure.
It cannot be said that the situation has greatly improved now. Barring a few foot overbridges like the multi-pronged one at Science Laboratory crossing, most others are still occupied by such elements. Even the one newly constructed at Shahbag to connect the end of the National Museum is occupied at daytime. Several people sleep under cover of blankets or rags and one has to make one's way in between the space left. The same is the case with many of the foot overbridges.
However, it will be wrong to think that illegal occupation of foot overbridges takes on its floor only. There is use of the two sides for drying wet clothes or wrappers. But all such varieties of use are nothing compared to the novel method of turning the enclosure at the base of four pillars a convenient shelter. An entire beggar family of four or five members take refuge there. When cleanliness can be dispensed with, it is not a bad shelter for those wretched lives! On the flower market side of the bridge opposite to the BIRDEM, the ingenuity of a florist family is stunning to say the least. They have placed some boards with parallel bamboo supports on four sides in the middle of four pillars where iron angles provide fixing the supports in a nice way. This is their resting place. They use a makeshift ladder to ascend on the square space with the bridge floor serving as its roof. Even women, after they have worked hard, get up there to have a nap.
Well, such novel use of bridge does not disturb pedestrians but the encroachment by hawkers, beggars and drug addicts certainly does. A busy foot overbridge like the one connecting Gawsia and New Market or the one at Farmgate or Shyamoli can under no circumstances be allowed to be encroached upon. The city corporations must take all possible measures to keep the foot overbridges free of such encroachment.
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