Whim drives govt from Trishal to Arial Beel
The government's plan to construct a modern airport in low lying Arial Beel, instead of a much superior place in Trishal, was taken without any prefeasibility study, and out of personal whims of some officials.
The vast swamp Arial Beel, with an average depth of 20 feet, serves as a major flood plain and agricultural hub in Munshiganj area. It stretches across parts of Sreenagar of Munshiganj, and Dohar and Nawabganj of Dhaka.
The officials, who recommended the Arial Beel site for construction of the airport, made up their mind after only a couple of visits to that area in last November.
Till December last year, the government was working on a proposal to construct the high end airport in Trishal on 6,000 acres of land.
In April last year, the civil aviation ministry made a formal proposal for the Trishal airport. The proposal was based on a recommendation from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) which had sent its experts to Mymensingh, Tangail, and some other districts to primarily select a site.
The biggest advantage of selecting Trishal was that the government already had 1,200 acres of land in its possession there to start with, and the ancient Trishal soil is fit to take the high impact that an airport generates.
But the decision was halted at the level of approval by the Prime Minister's Office in early December.
At that point some political leaders and some officials convinced the prime minister to build the airport in a district on the near south of Dhaka, because there is no big infrastructure.
They further argued that the people of that region would be happy to have a major infrastructure there, named after Bangabandhu, sources said.
Two senior officials hailing from Munshiganj played the key role in convincing the policymakers, the sources added.
And within a few days, the name of Arial Beel popped up out of nowhere. This time, the size of the proposed airport also shot up to 25,000 acres as the proposal included building a new city named after Bangabandhu as well.
The Trishal site did not get clearance even after eight months of primary selection. But PMO approved Arial Beel as the site just a day after a multi-media presentation of comparisons among different proposed sites.
The authorities cited a number of reasons for discarding Trishal as a site. One of the reasons is that it is near an international border, approximately 35 to 50 nautical miles. And the authorities are saying in case of diversion of aircraft due to weather conditions, those will require to cross the international boundary, complicating air traffic control and air traffic management.
Aviation experts however said when any aircraft lands in Singapore airport it has to use air space of three countries, and that does not create any problem there.
Other reasons included absence of river routes to the Trishal site, an increase in flight time by 20 minutes leading to an increase in fuel consumption by all aircraft, and the current use of a section of the airspace by Bangladesh Air Force for training purposes.
Later a team comprising the chief of the cell formed for the proposed airport, and representatives from the ministry concerned, Caab, and BAF visited different sites in Munshiganj, Faridpur, Madaripur, and Shariatpur on November 3 and 13.
Chief of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence Lt Gen Molla Fazle Akbar also visited proposed sites at Shibchar of Madaripur, Jazira of Shariatput, and Arial Beel with another team by a helicopter on November 15. Other members of that team were the secretary to the civil aviation ministry, Caab Chairman Air Commodore Mahmud Hussein, and some other officials from the ministry, BAF, and Caab.
Chief of the cell for the proposed airport, Joynal Abedin Talukder, who is also a joint secretary, finally gave the multi-media presentation on the comparative study of different sites to the prime minister on December 12 last year, which led to the choosing of Arial Beel as the most suitable site.
The next day the prime minister gave her approval, although no feasibility study on economic and environmental impact was done.
A senior geologist observed that considering the geological formations of Trishal and Arial Beel sites, the Trishal site would not only be superior, it would also be a cost saver.
"There are technologies which would allow you to construct high impact structures in low lying lands. But that costs extra money. Why do we need to spend this extra money?" he asked.
The geologist added, "If we construct an airport in the beel, where would the flood water go? Finally, did the authorities conduct a prefeasibility study before embarking on such a massive venture?"
A member of a Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) team, which had recently visited the area, said all documents since the British colonial era suggest Arial Beel has all the basics of a flood flow area.
He said apart from the owners of lands in the beel, a good number of victims of river erosions and monga earn their livelihoods from the swamp which is also a treasure trove of biodiversity.
He said during rainy seasons the swamp work as a conduit for flood water coming from nearby rivers. It also connects the rivers Padma, Dhaleshwari and Ichhamoti through 18 canals.