Jhenidah shoppers at risk of death
With 350 shopkeepers busy at work, the covered market in the centre of Jhenidah's Kaliganj town has a lot to offer. Hundreds of customers throng the bazaar daily to buy rice, groceries, sweetmeats, betel leaf, molasses and vegetables. But the 150-foot long by 150-foot wide concrete roofing that would normally add convenience and comfort is in a shocking state of repair. All below are at risk of injury or death from falling debris.
“The overhead beam at my shop has developed severe cracks,” says Shib Bashu, a betel leaf seller. “It may collapse at any time.”
Shib has no choice but to continue his work since the business supports his struggling family. “Even though business itself has declined, because customers don't gather as they once did, due to fear of the roof condition, I cannot stop,” he says. “But if I die my family will be absolutely destroyed.”
Unfortunately his fears of death are not hyperbole. On 28 October 2010 a tea stall owner, Ajoy from Chashra village, was indeed killed when part of the dilapidated roof broke away and fell on his head as he sold tea.
“All the shopkeepers are terrified,” says Sunnat Ali, 70, a grocer from Foyla village who has worked at the covered market for fifteen years. “At any time there can be a fatality, just like Ajoy.” The grocer, who pays Tk 60 per week for his spot inside the market, urges that repair work should commence immediately.
Kadar Ali, 65, who has been selling rice at the market for 20 years and pays Tk 40 per week to the market authority for the privilege, is similarly worried. “The authorities really need to fix the roof without delay.”
According to the general secretary of the market's association, Jahangir Hossain Moni, the mayor has been informed of the danger. “Our market traders work at great risk,” he says. “Every day chunks of the roofing fall. The whole roof may collapse at any time causing heavy loss of life.”
Local administrative officials told The Daily Star that construction of the large roof was organised in 1987 by the then Kaliganj upazila chairman Hajji Rafi Uddin, using public funds. The newly covered market was inaugurated by the then deputy commissioner of Jhenidah Ashaduzzaman.
The current mayor of Kaliganj Moksed Ali agrees that the roofing needs repair. “It has become dilapidated and risky,” he says, “and I have discussed the matter with our local lawmaker. I will take steps to fix the roof as soon as the municipality has funds made available to it which can cover the repair costs.”
The sub-assistant engineer in Kaliganj Upazila, Ovijit Kumar Biswas says that due to poor water drainage on the rooftop, the anticipated longevity of the structure has been compromised. “It was not built properly,” he says, “and needs urgent repair. The authorities should remove all the grocers from the ground floor and relocate them to the first floor after constructing solid support pillars. If they are relocated, there would be no risk to traders and shoppers.”
In the meantime, buying and selling daily necessities at the covered market will continue to be, quite literally, a question of life and death.