The owner of Sylhet's Hotel Nirvana Inn, has mixed feelings when he sees the city planning to repair roads along his hotel.
He knows the repaired road will improve traffic and prevent submergence, but it will also become at least three inches higher than before, forcing him to raise his hotel's boundary gate, once again.
Tahmin Ahmad, the hotel's owner, said, "With each renovation, the road is slightly elevated, prompting me to raise the gate."
Even after several raisings, Hotel Nirvana Inn's gate is again three inches lower from the recent repair and the gate needs another adjustment.
Sylhet's roads are frequently raised to prevent waterlogging, resulting in homes, shops, and markets being positioned below road level. This leads to the properties along the roads being flooded.
With such unplanned development works, the city is just diverting flood waters from the roads to the adjacent properties.
Tahmin, also the president of Sylhet Chamber, said he had spoken to people concerned including the city mayor several times regarding the issue.
"But no one cares," he sighed.
Officials of neither Sylhet City Corporation nor the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) apparently have a clue as to how high the roads of Sylhet have become or how high it will be in the future.
The traders of Raja Mansion market in the city's busy Zindabazar area are constant victims of Sylhet's unplanned road improvement works.
Masud Khan, president of the business association of Raja Mansion, said, "During heavy rain, the market becomes inundated, with water rising to knee-deep levels. The ground floor traders suffer significant financial losses, experiencing flooding at least three times this year."
He mentioned that the road near the market has been significantly elevated, and even the drainage system has been raised. Consequently, water no longer flows properly, causing rainwater to flow down from the road and enter the market.
Why roads are rising
Sylhet's rainy climate frequently causes road erosion, necessitating frequent renovations to address water-related issues, authorities said.
However, during repairs, instead of removing the previous worn-out bitumen and sand concrete, the road is elevated by pouring more bitumen on top, adding two to three inches to its height with each renovation.
There are two general types of work done on roads: maintenance and development, several engineers of the RHD told The Business Standard.
They said that new bitumen is typically applied over the existing layer during maintenance.
However, for development, the standard practice involves excavation to remove the previous layers, which is the approach taken in other countries but not commonly followed here.
Sylhet City's Chief Engineer Nur Azizur Rahman said such a method is used in Sylhet's road works to save money.
The cost must be calculated during the project proposal, he added. "If the cost is too high, the project will not pass. We have to work according to the project schedule."
Zahir Bin Alam, professor of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), said road renovation is costly, especially due to the expense of importing bitumen.
"Carpeting over the existing bitumen, without removal, significantly reduces the material and cost requirements. In contrast, if the road undergoes complete excavation and removal of the old materials, the cost can increase almost tenfold," he added.
Mostafizur Rahman, executive engineer of the RHD, said there is a deficit in the budget. "As a result, bitumen thickness has become as much as one foot on many roads. These should be removed."
Rakhal Dey, president of Sylhet Contractors Welfare Association, said, "The main problem we have here is corruption and lack of planning.
"When waterlogging happens, authorities raise roads without thinking whether it is causing more problems, or what impact it will have in the future."
The city's top contractor also said that such problems are also happening due to unplanned construction of houses.
In this context, Mostafizur Rahman mentioned that the structures along the roads must be built with high elevations as per law.
Hurting drainage system
Sylhet's drainage system is also suffering damage from the haphazard elevation of roads.
Mithu Talukdar, a top contractor in Sylhet, explained, "As the roads rise, so do the drainage channels. This prevents water from low-lying buildings from properly draining, leading to frequent flooding incidents."
Professor Zahir Bin Alam said rising roads are a big problem for all the cities of the country. But this problem is more pronounced in Sylhet as it is prone to rain and floods.
He noted that Sylhet city is naturally slightly sloping from north to south. As a result, when it rains, the water flows from the north and falls into the Surma River in the south.
"Therefore, if roads are raised unplanned, this natural balance will be destroyed. Then the drainage system should be changed every few days," the urban planner said.
No more raises
Chief Engineer Nur Azizur Rahman said, "Lately we are digging some roads and then renovating them without raising the road anymore."
"In future, we will remove all the previous materials from the road before road repairs. We consulted the experts. They also said that the road cannot be raised anymore," he added.