What are supposed to be joyous rides routinely turn out to be agonising ordeals for Dhaka residents during Eid.
Every year, the incumbent transportation minister announces that run-down roads will be repaired in the run-up to the two Eid festivals.
He unabashedly promises that Dhaka residents will safely return to their far-flung home districts, and will enjoy Eid festivities with their families and relatives to the fullest.
Ironically, what happens on the road in reality is the exact opposite of what politicians say, or what people expect.
Poor road conditions, aggravated by slow-paced development/repair work and other factors, not only create extreme gridlocks that stretch tens of kilometers, but also lead to unwanted accidents, claiming many lives.
At least 273 people were killed and 849 injured in 232 road accidents across the country while travelling during the 2019 Eid-ul-Fitr holidays, according to Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, a platform that works for passenger rights.
Compared to figures of 2018 Eid journeys, the number of road accidents went down by around 19 percent this year. The number of fatalities and injuries also saw a decline.
Experts say the practice of promising the completion of road repair ahead of Eid yields negligible results. They claim that the lion share of the budget for carrying out such repairs often goes down the toilet.
Rapid repair projects or plans in periods immediately leading up to Eid festivals twice a year are not something people want. They want a permanent, concrete solution to this recurring problem. Just before Eid, the act of hurriedly fixing roads that soon return to their previous state, demonstrates a serious lack of foresight on the part of the administration.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Monday told journalists at the Secretariat that dilapidated roads will be fixed three days before Eid-ul-Adha, which is scheduled to be celebrated on August 12.
If previous experience is anything to go by, it is highly likely that roads, ultimately, will not be fixed. Thus, holidaymakers will suffer yet again.
An office order from the Roads and Highways Department issued on Sunday said monitoring cells should be formed to monitor road repair and renovation. There should also be measures to rapidly respond to any type of untoward accident, the order said.
Current road conditions
Our Chittagong bureau reports that there are no major potholes on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, and holidaymakers can expect a trouble-free journey.
The Mirsharai part of the highway has no potholes, and traffic congestion has reduced considerably on that stretch.
“The Roads and Highways Department is fixing some potholes on the highway in the Cumilla area,” Zulfiqar Ahmed, executive engineer of the department’s Chittagong region, told The Business Standard.
Besides, three major bridges – Meghna, Gomoti and Kanchpur – were opened before this year’s Eid-ul-Fitr, which considerably improved traffic flow.
Ritesh Barua, executive engineer of the Roads and Highways Department in Sylhet, told The Business Standard that three mobile teams would be ready to carry out repairs during Eid-ul-Adha.
“There were some potholes on the road near Sylhet city bus station and we fixed it last week,” he said.
Overall, the condition of the Dhaka-Khulna highway is quite good, except for some sections from Jessore to Daulatdia. Long-haul bus companies in Khulna expect holidaymakers coming from Dhaka to have a pleasant journey. There are many potholes from Natore Sadar to Banpara on the Dhaka-Rajshahi highway, but they are being repaired.
“A 2km stretch is being re-surfaced on the Rajshahi-Naogaon highway, but it will be finished before Eid,” said Md Yunus Ali, sub-divisional engineer of the Roads and Highways Department’s Rajshahi-1 zone.
Major repairs by the number
In the fiscal year 2018-19, an additional Tk119.55 crore was allocated for repairing the Dhaka-Khulna (N-8) highway in the Revised Annual Development Programme (RADP), according to data from the Roads and Highways Department. The original allocation for this was Tk498.42 crore.
In the same fiscal year, Tk14.79 crore was allocated for solving drainage and waterlogging problems on the Nabinagar EPZ-Kaliakair (Chandra) national highway (N-54). Later, Tk2.98 crore was added to the project.
Also, Tk34.80 crore was earmarked for widening and improving the Barishal regional highway, Tk33.83 crore for the Sylhet regional highway, Tk50 crore for the Cumilla regional highway and Tk23.44 crore for the Bandarban regional highway in that fiscal year.