The condition of the bridge locally known as the WAPDA Bridge in Jhenidah's Shailakupa upazila is so bad that, from fear of mishap while crossing it, some guardians have stopped sending their children to school. Despite repeated community requests to relevant authorities to repair the bridge that spans an irrigation canal of the Bangladesh Water Development Board
Ganges-Kobadak project at Khulumbaria Bazar about eight kilometres from Shailakupa headquarters, no works have been forthcoming.
“The railings on both sides of the bridge were damaged at least four years ago,” says Anwar Hossain, a trader at Kulumbaria Bazar. “Since then locals have been requesting repairs, but the authorities haven't done anything. As a result accidents occur.”
According to Hossain, a few weeks ago a buffalo cart fell from the bridge for the lack of a railing. “The buffalo died in the canal waters,” he says, “and Tk 3 lakhs of goods were damaged.”
Yet thousands of people and many vehicles are left with no alternative but to brave the bridge daily. “Villagers from quite a few villages have to rely on that bridge,” says another local, Ruhul Amin. “The bridge connects people with nearby Langalbandh Bazar of Sripur upazila in Magura and also Pangsha upazila in Rajbari. It's an especially important link for businesspeople.”
Further, farmers continue to use the bridge to carry paddy, wheat, jute, vegetables and other crops to local markets, albeit that they feel unsafe while crossing.
But perhaps of greatest concern are the several hundred children who rely on the bridge to reach school. According to locals, many are holding their breath, waiting for the inevitable accident involving school students.
The chairman of Dhalaharachandra union in Shailakupa, Qamruzzaman Jiku, says he has brought the matter of bridge repair to the attention of relevant authorities time and again, but that so far his efforts have been in vain.
Sub-divisional engineer of the Ganges-Kobadak project, Kanak Kumar Biswas, says a proposal has been sent to higher authorities but cannot be implemented due to the financial constraints of the Board. He hopes the matter will be given priority in the next budget allocation, he says.