Dredging gone hibernating
Gross negligence in conducting timely dredging to keep the ferry channels in the Padma navigable has led to the disruption of ferry services between Mawa and Paturia, causing sufferings to thousands of people.
Officials of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), which operates the ferry service, said they had repeatedly warned Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) in the recent past about rapid loss of navigability of the Padma and the Jamuna, but nothing was done timely to dredge and keep the ferry channels fit for service.
“As soon as a shoal appeared in the channel (Mawa-Paturia) we wrote to the dredging department (of BIWTA) on August 16 urging them to take urgent measures to remove it by dredging,” said MA Matin, BIWTC deputy general manager (commerce) at Paturia ferry terminal.
BIWTA started dredging when it was too late. It put in place three dredgers before the Eid-ul-Fitr (Aug31) but did not start dredging the channel before September 6 for mysterious reasons. By then the Padma waters started to recede with the current too fierce to keep the dredger and the spoil pipes stable on the channel, BIWTC officials said.
The navigational routes between Mawa and Char Janajat were blocked over a strip of 1,000 metres at Hazra point and Naodoba point.
The officials mentioned that the crisis at the two very important ferry terminals has occurred due to "utter negligence" of BIWTA's dredging department. On an average, the department spends around Tk 25 crore a year to keep the channels navigable. It also hires private dredgers for a fee of Tk 100 for dredging every one cubic metre of silt from the riverbeds.
According to sources in the dredging department, it is during such emergencies that freshly injected funds for dredging expenses go unaccounted for.
“The situation is rapidly deteriorating with the water receding in the rivers,” said Md Mosharraf Hossain Howlader, BIWTC general manager (commerce), hinting that ferry services might be disrupted again.
But BIWTA Chairman Abdul Maleque Miah told The Daily Star that BIWTC deliberately stopped operation of ferries without any valid ground whatsoever. “We measured the depth of the particular channels and found those navigable. There is no reason why BIWTC officials should have stopped the services that caused huge economic losses as well as suffering to thousands of people," he said.
Every year, when water starts to recede, shoals appear very rapidly. BIWTA has now deployed three dredgers at Paturia and two at Mawa to keep the channel navigable.
According to the chief engineer of central zone of Water Development Board (WDB), Humayun Kabir, the Jamuna and the Padma bring down billions of cubic metres of sediment from upstream. The Jamuna is one of those rivers in the world known to have quick silt deposition. Within hours, shoals may form on its bed.
Officials at Mawa and Paturia ferry terminals also blamed the natural conditions changing the course of the Padma. Water started receding much faster this year than it did last year. They said the dredging department with ultra modern equipment could have easily predicted the problem long ago and solved it.
Contacted, Mohammad Abul Bashar, WDB sub-divisional engineer, confirmed that water level of the Padma at Bhagyakul was 5.40 metres yesterday against 6.54 metres on the same day (September 12) last year. At Aricha point, the water level was 8.7 metres yesterday against 9.36 metres on the same day last year.
A former BIWTA official told this correspondent that the whole operation of dredging goes without any planning or coordination with BIWTC officials.
“The dredging operation is mainly for crisis management without any planning or monitoring. It is only during this sort of emergencies that misappropriation of lot of funds is reported,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Asked, BIWTA Chief Engineer (dredging) Abdul Matin said the fierce current in the Jamuna and the Padma is hampering dredging work.
“The problem arises at a place where the channel is only a few hundred metres wide, and to dredge this part we have to restrict two-way movement of traffic,” he said.
On an average, up to 5,500 vehicles are ferried every day across the two rivers. BIWTC earns about Tk 2.5 crore a week from the ferry services, according to its General Manager (accounts) Mujibur Rahman.