A bridge on the Dhaleswari river at Charabari in Tangail Sadar upazila is on the verge of breaking down as earth from one of its approach roads has become displaced due to heavy rain and strong currents in the river. Hundreds of vehicles, including heavy ones, and thousands of people move over the bridge which connects five unions of the char areas in the western part of the district. But it is not just the rains that make such bridges vulnerable but other illegal activities like sand lifting as well as a general lethargy about maintenance of such vital infrastructure.
According to a report in this paper, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) constructed the bridge in 2006 for developing road communication between the district headquarters and the char area. But floods and heavy rains have since then damaged the western side approach several times. And each time instead of repairing the bridge the authorities took temporary measures such as throwing sandbags. Locals alleged, moreover, that during the dry season a section of influential people with political clout have continuously extracted sand from the river illegally for the last few years making the soil weak and leading to the damage.
So should we be blaming only the natural causes—heavy rains, flooding or change in the river course—for the state of this vital river? How could sand be illegally extracted for years without the knowledge of the authorities? Why would only temporary measures be taken when proper repair and maintenance could have kept the bridge strong enough to withstand the heavy rains and flooding as most bridges are supposed to do? The local administration is saying that they have already informed the Water Development Board (WDB) and LGED and told them to take immediate steps to protect the bridge. So what happened during all the years in between?
These are questions that the government should be asking the LGED and other bodies responsible for maintenance and repair of bridges. This paper has run innumerable reports on bridges in dilapidated condition and posing grave risks to those travelling over it. Last December we had reported on the ramshackle state of two rail bridges in Gaibandha connecting Dhaka with the northern districts that are around 200 years old. The derelict state of these bridges highlight the neglect and apathy towards maintenance of bridges in general. While the rains may give an excuse for the inability to repair these bridges they cannot absolve the responsible authorities from their utter negligence in regular repair and maintenance for which funds are supposed to be routinely allocated.