Transport in tatters
More than five million people affiliated with the transport sector are in great misery, as the country's roads and waterways communications nearly collapsed in the 71-hour blockade that ended early yesterday.
One million others who run various businesses around terminals and dockyards are also indirectly affected by long spells of hartals and blockades, said transport sector people.
While plying of buses, trucks and launches almost came to a halt during the just-ended blockade, rail communications too has gone through a nightmare due to uprooting of sleepers and fishplates, and arson.
Against the backdrop, Bangladesh Railway on Wednesday urged the people to protect the public sector from destruction.
"The Railway is a public institution. All its assets belong to the people. It is our duty to protect the sector," reads a text message of the railway sent to mobile subscribers.
As per Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, around one lakh trucks, lorries and pick-up vans, and 86,000 large and small buses operate across the country employing around four million workers.
Transport operators said the Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Benapole are the two crucial routes as most of the country's export-import take place through the Chittagong seaport and Benapole land port.
Rustom Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van Owners' Association, said about 22,000 to 25,000 vehicles carry goods like readymade garments and raw materials on Dhaka-Chittagong highway every day.
"Previously, we used to operate at night, dodging pickets. But now, it has become impossible due to frequent attacks even after dark," said Rustom, adding that if shutdowns continued thousands of people would find them in deep trouble.
On Dhaka-Benapole route, about 10,000 trucks, pick-up vans and buses ply every day. Of them, 300 to 320 trucks carry various items from India.
"Each day, we earn Tk 10 crore in export-import revenue. The amount dropped to less than Tk 1 crore during the blockade," said Sadhan Kumar Kundu, assistant commissioner (Customs) at Benapole port.
The situation is more pathetic for the bus operators, as most of the buses that used to ply inter-district routes during hartal days had been kept off roads during the siege.
A bus driver earns Tk 1,000 to 2,500 per trip while his helper Tk 500 to 1,000 and the supervisor Tk 1,000 to 1,500. A trucker's earning is double the bus driver's rate.
Managing Director of Shyamoli Paribahan Ramesh Chandra Ghosh said, "We keep all our 500 buses off the road during shutdowns, incurring a loss of around Tk 40 lakh a day."
He fears that if the situation keeps on going like this the transport sector will turn into a sick industry.
As for the waterways, around 300 small and large launches carry goods and passengers in the country. There are also hundreds of cargo vessels, oil tankers and trawlers which employ two lakh people.
According to Bangladesh Noujan Sramik (waterways employees) Federation, around 10 to 12 lakh others are indirectly involved in operating water vessels.
Some 150 launches sail from the capital's Sadarghat to Chandpur, Barisal, Patuakhali, Borguna and other southern districts carrying at least 50,000 people a day, said Badiuzzaman Badal, an adviser to Bangladesh Inland Waterways (passenger carriers) Association.
He said a cabin boy earns Tk 800 to 1,000 while a clerk Tk 200 a day. "All of them are now in trouble."
According to transport owners, more than 100 buses were torched and 300 others were vandalised in the last three months in Dhaka only.
About 300 trucks, covered vans and pick-up vans were set alight across the country during the same period, as per records of Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van Owners' Association.