Thousands of inhabitants of around 20 villages in Gafargaon and surrounding upazilas are facing a sudden breakdown in communications after three bridges, built between 2014 and 2018, collapsed in a span of only three days.
The Department of Disaster Management in Mymensingh constructed the bridges on Borakhali canal, a tributary of the Brahmaputra river.
The three bridges that broke down between May 26 and May 28 are Borakhali Bridge, constructed at a cost of Tk 31 lakh in 2017-2018 fiscal year; Char Mashlanda (Kuratolipara) Bridge, built at a cost Tk 47 lakh in 2013-2014 fiscal year; and Purbo Tekirchar (Muchharbari) Bridge, built at a cost of Tk 54 lakh in 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Rezaul Karim, project implementation officer (PIO) in Gafargaon, said the Char Mashlanda (Kuratolipara) Bridge and the Purba Tekirchar (Mucharbari) Bridge were constructed during his tenure while the Borakhali Bridge was constructed during the tenure of Abdul Ali, who is now the PIO in neighbouring upazila of Nandail.
The bridges connected some 20 villages in Gafargaon, Nandail and Hossainpur upazilas, serving about eight thousand people daily, said locals.
Demanding proper investigation into the incident, they alleged that the use of substandard construction materials and negligence and lax monitoring by the authorities concerned might be the cause behind such a disaster.
Abdur Razzaq, a farmer from Hotorkhali village in neighbouring Hossainpur upazila of Kishoreganj, said thousands in surrounding areas had their hopes up when the bridges were constructed.
"To the delight of the villagers, the new bridges helped invigorate rural economy on both sides of the bridges. The bridges enabled the farmers send their agricultural goods to nearby towns at affordable transport costs. But their hopes are now dashed," said Siraj Uddin Ahmed, a resident of Borakhali village in Gafargaon.
Rezaul Karim, the PIO in Gafargaon, however denied the allegation of using low-grade materials in the construction of the collapsed bridges.
He said unplanned digging of canals beside the bridges caused those to collapse. "We wrote to the department concerned regarding the issue before, but our concern was ignored."
Mymensingh sub-divisional engineer, Yunus Ali, said they had been carrying out excavation in the Borakhali canal and building embankments on its sides to ensure natural flow of water in the canal round the year.
They were also constructing four regulators and 10 box culverts along the embankments under the project.
"While excavating earth, we've been maintaining a distance of 10 metres from the bridges and there's no chance of affecting the bridges," he said, claiming that proper design was not followed while building the bridges and existing water level in the canal was not taken into consideration.
Contacted, Gafargaon Upazila Nirbahi Officer Tajul Islam said he already visited the spot and it primarily appeared to them that landslides might have collapsed the bridges.
Mohammad Sanwar Hossain, district relief and rehabilitation officer in Mymensingh, said a five-member probe committee, headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Md Jahangir Alam, was formed on Tuesday to investigate into the collapse of the three bridges. The committee is due to submit its report within seven working days, he also said.