Eid is over. We can heave a sigh of relief. Relief that not any major road accident or launch capsize has happened. Relief that people could finally find usable roads they could travel on, not the terrible bumpy journey they were looking at.
The communications minister, Obaidul Quader, could be thanked for taking that last minute initiative to repair the roads. But his late actions could be questioned in many ways. And the whole Eid home-going throws up many new things to think about.
Everybody knew Eid was coming and this is the time when a sudden influx of passengers takes place. Probably nowhere in the world do such a huge number of people go home for festivity. Only the Chinese New Year is comparable to it when workers in their hordes go on mass vacation.
So when we knew the Eid rush was round the corner, why did the communications ministry have to sit tight until the last moment to repair roads? That also it did after much media reporting and threats of strikes from transport owners.
What we have gathered from our sources is that for such emergency work, the authorities keep aside some funds and also construction materials which it hurriedly mobilizes. It also ropes in the contractors to the job at a much higher rate.
This in a way breeds lack of accountability and corruption. Nobody actually knows how much extra money is dished out. Nobody cares about the quality of work, as the authorities are happy as long as the repair lasts through the short-lived Eid rush. Thereafter the roads may go back to their earlier state. Who cares?
So it is corruption and making quick bucks ahead of Eid that result in the late dash for road repair. It is basically a waste of public money.
Another Eid is coming in about two months and people will not expect the same repeat show.
The second question is much more complex to answer. Can the risky journey be avoided? We have seen how precariously people have travelled on buses and launches, packed like sardines. One may wonder if they had glued themselves to the rooftops. Otherwise why did they not slip over?
But can such rides be avoided? Apparently it seems impossible, as at least 50 lakh people go home at a time during the festival. This is way too high a number for the buses and launches to accommodate. So what's the solution?
The bus and launch owners can introduce more vehicles to handle this peak movement. But what will they do with the vehicles during the rest of the year? The launch owners already do this practice – they plied 185 launches during this Eid while during normal time only 65 set sail. So the rest just sit idle.
But in the road sector, the situation is somewhat different. The sector is captured by a few owners, who deliberately keep the number of buses below the demand. There is no competition there and new investors dare not enter the fray.
The government can streamline this sector and make sure that more investments come in. And it can strengthen the railway. The under capacity malaise has overpowered the rail sector. It lacks engines, bogies and rail lines. Even then the railway doubled the number of passengers it carried during Eid. This is a sector neglected over the years and many say this was because of the petty interests of the road transport owners.
So revamping the railway, BRTC and BIWTC could provide a solution to the Eid woes. But, then, can the government also find another solution? It has a huge fleet of buses to carry its staff. Can they be put to use to ease the situation?
Whatever may be the answer, even if it is a part answer, the government has to find it. It just can't sit and watch people tossing and bobbing on the rooftops of buses and trains and hanging from the doors on their journey home.