More than half of the 45 bridges, built in two Natore upazilas a couple of years ago, are not bringing much benefit to the local people.
The disaster management department built the bridges -- 24 in Natore Sadar and 21 in Naldanga upazilas -- spending around Tk 14.8 crore of public money in 2016-2017 fiscal year.
But many locals said it was a largely a waste as most of the bridges did not benefit locals much. Some were built just for the benefits of a few families, while a few others were constructed over narrow canals where culverts could have served the purpose.
Also, many bridges were built without any approach road on either side.
Visiting the 45 bridges recently, this correspondent found enough evidence to substantiate the claims of the local people.
As many as 14 of the bridges have no connecting roads at both ends and eight have been built on canals where only culverts could serve the purpose. Besides, three bridges serve only a few families while one connects a jungle.
At Chhatni Diyar village in Natore Sadar upazila, the authorities have built a 40 feet long bridge spending Tk 32.52 lakh. But there is no road linking the bridge.
Six bridges have been built on a three-kilometre road at Bhatpara village in the same upazila although there were six bridges already.
“The bridges remain mostly useless. This is nothing but a waste of public money,” said Nurul Islam of Bhatpara village.
The authorities have spent Tk 32.42 lakh to build a 40 feet long bridge on the Huja river, but it has remained useless as there is no approach road.
The bridge would be useful only after construction of connecting roads, said Ruhul Amin, headmaster of Senbhag Government Primary School in Naldanga upazila.
This correspondent also found that three bridges were built in Koigari village and one each in Diyarsaturia, Bolakandi and Nobinkrisnapur villages under Natore Sadar upazila without any link road.
The bridges were built under the supervision of the two upazila nirbahi officers upon recommendations from the local lawmaker (Natore-2). The project implementation officer (PIO) of the two upazilas had sent proposals for building the 45 bridges after conducting an on-the-spot feasibility study.
Aysha Siddika was the PIO of the two upazilas when the plan was drafted and executed.
Siddika, now the PIO of Pabna's Bhangura upazila, said, “Projects are implemented as per recommendations of the public representatives, especially of the local lawmaker. The upazila chairman, the UNO and other officials concerned select the location. Officials of my rank cannot play a vital role in making any decision.”
Shafiqul Islam Shimul, lawmaker from Natore-2, said he had recommended building the bridges and also inaugurated those.
“I made recommendations in line with the demand of the local people. They are very happy that a lot of bridges have been built which reduced their sufferings greatly,” said a satisfied Shafiqul.
About the lack of approach roads, he said, “I will build roads in those areas where there is no road link.”
PROBE BODIES FORMED
Meanwhile, the disaster management ministry and the Department of Disaster Management have recently formed two inquiry committees to investigate the construction of the bridges.
Additional Secretary Mostafizur Rahman, chief of the three-member inquiry committee formed by the ministry, said they were probing the construction of all the 45 bridges.
“We will submit the report to the ministry within a short time. If found guilty, all those responsible will be punished,” said Mostafizur, also the project director of bridges under the Department of Disaster Management.
ATM Kamrul Islam Tang, director of planning and development at the disaster management department, is heading the other probe committee.
“We are investigating how the bridges were built, the necessity and output of the bridges. Stringent actions will be taken if the officials concerned are found involved in irregularities.”
Talking to The Daily Star, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said there was no specific policy on the construction of bridges and culverts in local areas.
“Bridges and culverts are constructed on the basis of necessity. But the type of necessity has changed over time. Now influence from the contractors and politicians mostly defines the necessity,” he said.