Nightmare on ferries
It was a journey Rafiqul Islam Nasir and his family members were not prepared to make on their return to the capital from Eid vacation at their hometown in Bagerhat.
On reaching Kathalbari Ferry Ghat Tuesday midnight after a six-hour-long bus journey, they came to know that most of the ferries were not operating across the Padma river for lack of navigability due to siltation.
What they would have to do was take their bags and belongings and board a small ferry to get to the other side of the river.
So, Nasir, his wife and two kids left their bus and squeezed into a ferry jam-packed with people. The ferry carried only people and light vehicles so that it didn't run aground on Shimulia-Kathalbari route.
Jostling for enough space even to stand in the crowd, some passengers were locked in scuffles with others in the one and a half hour's journey. Rain and humid added to their sufferings.
“I never faced such a hassle. Had I known that ferries would not carry our bus, I would not have travelled on this route and brought those heavy bags,” said Nasir, a resident of Hasnabad in the capital.
The authority should have been aware of silt accumulation in the route and should have completed dredging beforehand to avoid such a situation, he added.
“It was very difficult for me and my children to travel on the ferry amid people pushing and shoving,” said Nasir's wife Laiju Begum.
They were lucky to have made it to the other side of the river while thousands others from 21 districts in the country's south and south-western parts and several hundreds vehicles were still waiting at Kathalbari Ferry Ghat to return to Dhaka.
Only five ferries were operating on the route carrying lightweight vehicles and passengers in place of 21 different types of ferries that regularly ply across the river. As a result, passengers had to wait for long and travel on launches and speedboats.
Some buses used Daulatdia-Paturia route as alternative, creating tailbacks on the Daulatdia side where ferry transportation was also hampered by strong current of the Padma river.
Khondkar Shahnawaz Khalid, assistant general manager of Shimulia-Kathalbari Ferry Ghat, told our Munshiganj correspondent that disruption to ferry transportation on Shimulia-Kathalbari route began on August 31 due to silt accumulation. The ferry services were suspended the next day.
Except for the five light ones, services of other ferries remained suspended since Sunday, Khalid added.
“We started dredging the channel on September 2,” said Sultan Ahmed Khan, executive engineer (dredging) of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), adding that ferry transportation might become normal from Saturday.
Meanwhile, the BIWTA issued a press release, saying it could not continue dredging properly due to strong current. It urged people to use alternative routes instead of Shimulia-Kathalbari route.
Our Manikganj correspondent reported that buses carrying passengers to Dhaka waited three to four hours to get on a ferry because of huge traffic.
Around 200 private cars and microbuses, 300 buses and more than 350 trucks were lined up on a stretch of seven to eight kilometres at Daulatdia for ferries at around 5:00pm yesterday.
Twenty-one out of 22 ferries were operating on the route.
Shafiqul Islam, a manager at Daulatdia office of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation, said the flow of vehicles was increasing at Daulatdia ferry terminal as ferries took twice the time required for each trip due to strong current.
Selina Begum, passenger of a bus waiting since morning, said “We have to suffer like this at the same place every year. The authorities care little about it.”