- The Navigational Clearance shall be in accordance with the current BIWTA requirements. Therefore the latest situation i.e. any possible change in regulation needs to be verified with the BIWTA.
- Minimum vertical Clearance for Class-I routes 18.30 meters, Class-II 12.20, Class-III 7.62 and Class-IV 5.00 meters from the standard high water level (SHWL).
- For waterways which have not been classified by BIWTA, consideration shall be given to the local requirement for passage of fishing vessels, boats, trawlers, barges etc.
- At least one span must be kept wide enough to accommodate intended river traffic. The vertical clearance should be measured from the Standard High Water Level.
- The same height for the bridge has also been defined by the Shipping Ministry's Gazette 2010.
- The guideline said the Minimum Vertical Clearance for Class-I routes 18.30 meters, Class-II 12.20, Class-III 7.62 and Class-IV 5.00 meters from SHWL.
Low bridges constructed by the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) across different rivers in the country have been creating obstacles to the smooth navigation of vessels on the waterways.
A recent survey by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) found that 63 out of 99 bridges surveyed are blocking smooth navigation due to construction glitches.
Even though a gazette notification issued in 2010 defined the minimum height of bridges, constructions of low bridges on rivers are underway even after eleven years.
According to the 2010 gazette, minimum vertical clearance for Class-I route is 18.30 metres, Class-II 12.20 metres, Class-III 7.62 metres and Class-IV 5.00 metres, from the standard high water level (SHWL). For waterways that have not been classified by the BIWTA, the local requirement for passage of fishing vessels, boats, trawlers and barges has to be considered. At least one span must be kept wide enough to accommodate intended river traffic.
Among the 99 bridges surveyed, the BIWTA spotted six under-construction low bridges, including Tongi Rail Bridge-2, Tongi Road Bridge-1, Kayetpara Bridge and Ichhapura Bridge (Narayanganj), which are in violation of the 2010 gazette.
BIWTA sources have said they failed to stop the construction of those bridges even after sending a letter earlier this year to the Roads and Highways Department, which is responsible for the construction and maintenance of bridges on the country's rivers.
In this regard, Rabiul Islam, assistant director (Conservation and Pilotage) of the BIWTA, said, "We sent a letter to the RHD in February recommending a stop to the construction of those bridges, but it has not been paying heed to our objections. We cannot do more due to legal bindings."
Apart from the above-mentioned bridges, the RHD is also constructing two bridges on the River Kopotakkho at Jhikargachha on the Jashore-Benapole highway in violation of the rules of minimum height defined in the 2010 gazette.
Sources have said the RHD is constructing the twin bridges on the River Kopotakkho without obtaining vertical and horizontal clearance from the BIWTA, which is mandatory before the construction of any bridge is undertaken.
"The BIWTA has not approved the construction of the bridges as the minimum height was not maintained," said Md Sobur Khan, deputy director (Conservation and Pilotage) of the BIWTA.
He said, "We have asked the hydrography department to measure the height from the standard water level. Once we get the report, we will lodge complains to the authorities concerned."
The bridges are being constructed at a cost of Tk150 crore, with funding by Japan International Cooperation Agency. Construction of a bridge has already been completed and work on another will begin soon.
In this regard, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury told The Business Standard (TBS), "No bridge can be constructed without getting a no objection certificate (NOC). We will look into the matter as to how the RHD is constructing the bridges. BIWTA has been instructed to investigate the issue and action will be taken once the investigation ends."
Replying to a query, he said, "We have no way of taking legal action. We are going to hold an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss the issue. Hopefully, it will be fruitful."
Asked about other low-height bridges, the state minister said some of the bridges are very old and some were built before the publication of the 2010 gazette.
"The prime minister is very much serious about recovering navigation routes across the country. She has instructed us to find out the low bridges and reconstruct them. Therefore, all low bridges constructed on different rivers across the country will be reconstructed to ensure smooth navigation," said the state minister, adding however, that it cannot be done overnight. It has to be done in phases.
"Initially, we want to recover the important routes. Then, gradually, all the routes will be recovered. Restoring 10,000km of waterways across the country is going on while, simultaneously, action will be taken regarding low bridges on those routes," Chowdhury held out the assurance.
Meanwhile, experts said inefficiency and whimsical decisions of the RHD, together with a lack of coordination and proper monitoring are the key reasons behind the construction of the low bridges.
"The RHD's argument that some of the bridges were constructed before the issuance of the 2010 gazette is a lame one. They should have kept in mind the fact that a bridge is made for 50-100 years," said Professor Mir Tareque Ali, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
He said the construction of low bridges is a result of their inefficiency. It happened due to the lack of coordination between the BIWTA and the RHD.
RHD Chief Engineer Md Abdus Sabur said, "Before the issuance of the gazette in 2010, we had been following our own guideline — RHD Bridge Design Standards 2004 — for construction of bridges.
"Since the issuance of the gazette in 2010, we have been taking clearance from the BIWTA regularly before starting the construction of any bridge. But in a recent gazette on 'Construction Over Rivers Control Rules', published in 2018 by the shipping ministry, classification of some routes was upgraded. As a result, bridges constructed on those routes turned into low ones."
Most of the bridges spotted by the BIWTA as low bridges were constructed even before RHD's 2004 guideline was prepared, he claimed.
"We are serious about the low or most talked about bridges and trying to fix the problem. We are working to find out an alternative to demolishing the existing bridges. We are considering whether it is possible to increase the height keeping the existing girders," he added.