For about twenty years the Bowbazar Ghat remained a crowded place as hundreds of people used to cross the capital's Banani lake on boats, but, now it looks like a deserted pier with boats lying idle as law enforcers have shutdown the popular water transportation system.
The shutdown has not only increased the transportation cost for the passengers but also pushed many jobless boatmen's families to utmost poverty.
“I worked as a boatman for the last eight years and took care of my family with the income. It's not easy to get another job right away. I barely survive by selling vegetables now,” said Khokon Majhi, 35.
He said most of the boatmen are facing the same adversity.
Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Gulshan Zone Mostaque Ahamed said the ghat has no approval from Dhaka North City Corporation and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha.
He said they have stopped the boat service after the Gulshan café attack. “To ensure security of the diplomatic zone, we took the decision,” he added.
“It's the only thing we know. Out of desperation, some of us still help people cross the lake by using makeshift rafts with sandbags for survival,” said Khokon. “People still use the service to save money. But police often chase us away.”
“Before, for Tk 2 we could reach Gulshan-1 from the slum [Karail] within just five minutes,” said Sharmin Akhtar, a RMG worker of Badda.
Now Sharmin shares a rickshaw ride with her co-workers to reach Mohakhali Wireless Gate to minimise her transportation cost. “Rickshaw-pullers demand Tk 30. We have no other option but to pay them the amount. Now it takes around 30 to 40 minutes to reach our workplace.”
At least 1,800 garment workers used to cross the lake every day. Besides, school goers, day labourers, security guards, domestic help and others used the boats to go to their respective destinations, said Kalam Fakir, who had been supervising the ghat.
“Forty-five boats, each carrying ten passengers, made at least four trips every morning between 7:30am and 7:45am,” he said. When asked, Kalam said they did not take any lease from anyone for the boat service.
For many families, the boatmen were the lone bread earner and the shutdown has pushed these families to poverty, he said.
There were 90 boats that operated on two shifts every alternate day. One boatman, who usually got a chance to row every other day, could earn upto Tk 400 on each shift, they said, adding, the boat owners used to get Tk 100-120 from each boat.
Talking to The Daily Star, Mofizur Rahman, local councillor (ward 19), said they were not thinking about restarting the boat service.
“There will be beautification of the lake and roads will be built alongside it and speedboats will run on the lake like Hatirjheel. So there is no scope for plying of these boats,” he said.