Happy faces at the windows of a train at Airport Railway Station in the capital yesterday. They were the lucky ones who had seats for their travel home on Eid holidays. Many others, not in frame, were standing in the aisle and sitting on the roof of the train. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
After a month of fasting, people in their thousands were trying to get transport home from the capital on the last working day yesterday ahead of the Eid holidays.
If the new moon is sighted today, Eid will be celebrated tomorrow (Tuesday). If not, it will be celebrated the day after.
People thronged Kamalapur Railway Station, Sadarghat launch terminal and bus terminals of Dhaka to go home.
This year, unlike the previous few years, they did not face any hurdles on the way, be it railway, highway, or waterway.
There was no traffic congestion on any of the highways. There was also no major disruption of train services.
Except for Silk City heading for Rajshahi, all 46 trains were on schedule, carrying about 1.2 lakh people every day.
People were happy in general as they were reaching home timely.
However, overloading of vehicles, vessels and trains remains an issue. The attempt of the authorities concerned to prevent overloading turned out to be futile.
Even though buses were less crowded and hardly anyone was seen travelling on their roofs, trains and launches were packed like sardines.
At Kamalapur Railway Station yesterday, all trains were overcrowded and there was no room on the aisle and people travelled on the roofs, putting their lives at risk.
A senior railway official said, “We don't even think of preventing people when they ride on the roofs. We don't have any mechanism to control people desperate to get home.”
A similar situation was seen at Sadarghat.
The terminal was crowded beyond imagination. In the ruthless sultry weather, people in their thousands began heading home for the holidays.
A large number of them were travelling on the top decks of launches, which is not allowed.
Mirpur resident Shahida Begum set out for her Bhandaria village home in Pirojpur district along with her mother, son and two younger brothers and it took her around four hours to get to Sadarghat.
When the bus she was riding in dropped her off at GPO intersection instead of Gulistan, Shahida began to gasp in anxiety over whether she would get any room on board.
Things became worse for her along with hundreds of others heading home for Eid, as they had to walk from Jagannath University to the terminal carrying their luggage. The street was made off limits to all vehicles “to help passengers get to the terminal easier”.
Bangladesh Inland Water Ways Passenger Carriers Association chairman Mahbub Uddin Ahmed said berthing facilities with only 13 pontoons for 181 large vessels were inadequate to handle thousands of passengers.
Around 12 lakh passengers travel by launch on 38 routes of 18 southern districts over a period of one week, he said.
Despite repeated government pledges and multi-layered prevention measures, launches were seen leaving Dhaka with scores of passengers on the roof in the presence of security personnel and with BIWTA officials ignoring it all.
Around 1:00pm, Lt Kader, leading a Coast Guard patrol team, was desperately asking two launches -- MV Flotila going to Doulatkhan and MV Prince of Barisal heading for Patarhat -- to leave the terminal, as both the launches were overcrowded and scores more were on the roofs.
As the captains of the launches procrastinated, Kader went looking for the mobile court deployed at Sadarghat.
“I do not know where they are. It is utterly difficult to handle thousands of people moving at a time with such scanty law enforcement personnel and inadequate number of magistrates,” he told The Daily Star.
He then went to the river port office of BIWTA seeking help and came back with a BIWTA official and four policemen.
Asked why they allowed the vessels to carry passengers on the top deck by flouting rules, BIWTA Deputy Director Saiful Haque Khan said, “They [the passengers] were onlookers, they will get down later.”
Minutes before he said this, one of The Daily Star correspondents boarded both the launches and found every inch of the decks occupied by passengers.
A launch carrying 500 passengers broke down in the Meghna river after it had set off for Chandpur from Sadarghat around 8:00am.
Supervisor of the launch Ali Asgar said the launch lost the engines around 11:00am near Safarmali area and drifted downstream before getting stuck in a char.
Later, another launch took in the panic-stricken people.
Ferry services at Paturia and Mawa were smooth yesterday.