When the whole country has been rejoicing on Padma Bridge that opened to traffic on Sunday (26 June), a multitude of people dependent on the mighty Padma River for their livelihood are left on pins and needles.
Just two days after the dream project was inaugurated, owners and workers of the naval transports like launches and speedboats that ply on the Shimulia-Banglabazar and Shimulia-Majirkandi routes manifested frustration over the imminent future of the business.
While claiming to be happy about Padma Bridge, speedboat owner Topu Ahmed was disquieted about his business future.
"Speedboat drivers and owners get to earn when the boats run. Yesterday, my boat made a single trip while today it couldn't make even one as of now. I will end up selling the boat if this continues," he said.
A total of 151 speedboats and 87 launches are registered under Shimula ghat which employs several thousand people.
Abdul Awal, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of Louhajang said, "Not just launch and speedboat drivers, livelihoods of around 5,000 people centre around Shimulia ghat."
He also noted that many jobs will be created if the plan to turn Shimulia ghat into a tourism centre is materialised and the launches and sea boats can still be used for river cruises.
Khokon Ahmed, the owner of a launch named ML Tapan, said, "My launch has been running on this route for a long time. I and my crew members were quite well off with the income from the launch."
"But passengers have dried out since the inauguration of the bridge. Only 10 launches operated yesterday. The ghat area is now eerily empty," he added.
The launch and boat terminals in Shariatpur and Madaripur were also found deserted on Monday. The businesses centring these terminals are facing a hard time due to a lack of passengers.
Most fruit shops were closed and fewer customers were seen in the hotels and eateries. Many food business owners have sold their shops, while others are considering doing so.
People concerned in these terminals demanded rehabilitation by creating alternative employment.
Fruit trader Shahjalal said the daily sale at the terminal was good. "I used to sell Tk30-35,000 worth of fruits daily. But today, I have made Tk5,000 selling fruits. A few shops have been shut down already. I'm wondering what to do next."
Hasan Mollah, a hotelier at Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury Ghat, said, "I have been involved in the hotel business here since childhood. With 18 employees, my hotel's daily sale was about Tk50,000."
"I made Tk6,000 today (Monday). I have dismissed 15 employees so far. I think I have to close my business. I do not know what to do," he added.
According to the terminal leaseholders and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) office, there are 211 business establishments including 37 hotels, 39 fruit shops and 54 tea stalls at Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury ghat in Madaripur. The Sattar Madbar-Mangalmajhir ghat in Shariatpur has about 144 businesses including 11 hotels, 7 fruit shops and 29 tea stalls.
As many as 1,100 people are employed in 86 launches and 250 speedboats registered under these two terminals. Another 1,000 people are involved in toll collection, loading and unloading of goods.
Al Amin, a resident of Naodoba, has been making a living by carrying passengers' baggage at the launch terminal for 12 years. He is now worried sick about his only means of earning.
"I am responsible for my mother and younger sister at home. Being a porter is all I know. If the launches stop, I have to go fishing or do some agricultural work I guess, he said.
Md Shahadat Hossain, assistant director and port officer of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), assured that initiatives are being taken by the water transport regulator and the Ministry of Shipping to rehabilitate the vessels and those concerned.
"Efforts are underway to find an alternative inland route. Besides, arrangements will also be made to run Shimulia river port in case of passenger demand," he added.