The Financial Express

Saga of faulty rural bridges

Shihab Sarkar | Published: February 01, 2020 21:15:50

Saga of faulty rural bridges

People not acquainted with normal spectacles of rural Bangladesh might feel puzzled after encountering a few. There are scores of grotesque views involving the present village life. They do not startle the rural folks, as they have been long used to them. But an outsider, like one living in a large Bangladesh city, may not be capable of reconciling with it. He or she might find themselves being overtaken by a tormenting incredulity.

One of such views widespread in villages is bridges without approach roads. Half-built concrete bridges with no approach roads on their two sides are a common sight in today's Bangladesh. Such bridges were rarely encountered in the country in the past. These days, this essential infrastructure in its extreme state of dysfunction is found in almost every corner of Bangladesh.

These so-called bridges have, veritably, come to prove that this is what a village-based bridge in this country is. The efficiently finished and complete rural bridges are, in the main, meant for use by pedestrians. Occasionally, the larger and relatively stronger of these bridges can accommodate bicycles, cycle rickshaws and bullock carts.

But how can one define the mere elementary structure of a bridge standing on pillars --- with no facilities to climb up the bridge on one end and coming down the other? A lot of such bridges witness literally absurd views: bamboo-made ladders set up on the two sides of a bridge enabling strong-built males to climb up the bridge and disembark from it. For cogent reasons, such bridges remain off-limits to women and the elderly.

These days hardly a day passes on which the photograph of such a weird-looking bridge is not printed in a newspaper, not to mention photo stories the commo0ners upload on the social media. The private TV channels do not lag behind. They occasionally telecast the prevailing state of these unusable bridges. The telecasts are often accompanied by interviews of the disillusioned and helpless bridge users. It's not difficult to assume the extent of sufferings and resentment the half-done bridges cause to them.

The bitter truth is no solution seems to be in sight. Instead, the number of these unusable bridges continues to rise across the country. That the mushrooming of the bridges without approach roads is linked to financial irregularities is an open secret.

Apart from an unholy alliance between the relevant authorities granting funds for a bridge and the contractors concerned, the latter's ploys and tricks to misappropriate public money are alleged to play dominant roles in the whole nasty game. At times funds are used partially. The villagers are told that more funds are needed to complete the bridge concerned. But those are not forthcoming. The rural folks are asked to wait in patience for some more time to see their dream bridge erected across a small river or a canal. Those days continue to elude them. With the contractors concerned not showing up, the bridge chapter eventually peters out. The conclusion the poor villagers are made to draw is: fate doesn't allow them to enjoy the benefits of a much-needed bridge.

However, a few genuine contractors are said to be deliberately denied the necessary funds -- especially in a changed situation. This is no unique development in a particular period. It has been happening in the country without respite since independence. Whatever the case may be, the sufferings of the villagers keep multiplying. There are no reliable statistics on the number of people going through physical sufferings and also on the socio-economic losses borne by people due to faulty bridges. Normal day-to-day rural activities are already being affected and the rural economic growth will suffer to a much higher extent, if such bridges outnumber the properly functional ones.


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