The tidal regulators currently being installed on two canals in Chattogram city to reduce waterlogging will narrow the waterways long used for trading in the city's Khatunganj and thus hamper its business, experts and businessmen fear.
The two canals – Rajakhali and Chaktai – are the main two entryways to the country's main wholesale market Khatunganj.
The passage for navigation through the two regulators being set up on these canals is so narrow that even if small vessels can move through it, large cargo vessels will not be able to, say traders and owners of cargo-carrying vessels.
Most of these vessels – boats and trawlers – that transport goods from Khatunganj are large vessels with an average width of 25-30 feet. But the width of the passage through these two regulators is just 20 feet.
Even small 20-foot vessels will not be able to navigate this route because one such wooden vessel requires at least 2 feet of extra space on both sides, they say.
Urban planner Dr Abu Taib Mohammed Shahjahan, who led a research titled "Study on Economic Impact of Waterlogging on Local Trade: The Case of Khatunganj", told The Business Standard, "Regular dredging of the canals and the River Karnaphuli is needed to bring back the business-friendly Khatunganj – not tidal regulators.
"At the same time, waste management must be ensured to save the canals from being filled in and to prevent pollution."
Dr Shahjahan said the whole world is moving away from tidal regulators as an old model.
He expressed concern that trading through the waterways in Khatunganj will stop due to the narrow passage of the tidal regulators and a lack of proper supervision.
The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) is also against setting up the tidal regulators. As its Head of Programme Advocate Khorshed Alam said, "These tidal regulators will be ineffective in reducing waterlogging in Chattogram city."
Describing it as a suicidal plan, he said it is not possible to end the waterlogging of Chattogram metropolis by constructing sluice gates alone – without rescuing the 71 canals of the city from grabbers.
"If the sluice gates are closed during high tides and the city receives more than 100 millilitres of rain at that time, most areas of the city will be submerged. In this situation, building a sluice gate means killing the canals forever," said Khorshed.
Noab Serang and Bahar Serang, two boatmen who transport goods from Khatunganj to Sandwip, said about 60-70% of the vessels transporting goods from Khatunganj are big boats or trawlers with a width of 25-30 feet.
Only small boats – which are normally 15-20 feet wide – will be able to move through the tidal regulators, but large boats will get stuck, they said.
However, officials of the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA), the organisation implementing the construction of the tidal regulators on 40 canals of the port city, said considering the business of Khatunganj through the waterway, they are keeping enough space for the movement of vessels through the regulators.
They said each of the two regulators on the Chaktai and Rajakhali canals has a pathway of 6.5 metres, or 20 feet, and will be handled manually.
Kazi Hassan bin Shams, chief engineer of the CDA, said, "The gates of the regulators will be closed in case of natural calamities such as floods, heavy rains and rising tides. Navigation will be suspended at that time.
"In a word, vessels will move in a controlled manner through the regulators."
Rajiv Das, executive engineer of the CDA and director of the Outer Ring Road Project, said, "A 6.5-metre pathway is being kept for each regulator. So, vessels larger than 20 feet have to be kept outside the regulators and goods have to be transported by smaller vehicles."
He said, "Traders will have to make some sacrifice to free the city from waterlogging."
According to the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, about 30% of the daily business in the wholesale market that has a daily turnover of Tk2,500 crore revolves around the waterways.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "In order to protect the Khatunganj trading centre, the waterways should not be hampered and steps like regular excavation in Rajakhali-Chaktai canals, renovation of branch canals will have to be taken. New canals should also be excavated."
The CDA will install 12 regulators at the openings of different canals under its Outer Ring Road project and five more to prevent waterlogging. The Water Development Board will set up 23 more regulators.
According to the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, waterways are the main means of transporting goods to-and-from about 50 upazilas in 11 districts around Chattogram. Every day more than 500 vessels are engaged in transporting goods here. In case of problems like strikes and blockades on roads, waterways become the only means of transporting goods.
Different areas of the country, including Kutubdia, Maheshkhali, Teknaf, and Ramu in Cox's Bazar; Chattogram's Sandwip, Anwara, Banshkhali, Satkania, and Chandnaish; as well as Barisal, Bhola, Hatia, Patuakhali, Noakhali, Feni, Lakshmipur, and Chandpur districts have naval trade links with Khatunganj.
Sabbir Ahmed, a grocer in the Satkania area, said the cost of transporting goods by water is almost half that by road. The transportation cost by boat is only Tk10 per sack from Khatunganj to Charti in Satkania, a distance of 60 kilometres. It takes Tk20-25 by road.
Professor Md Riaz Akhter Mallik, head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Chattogram University of Engineering and Technology, said, water transportation is cheaper and more environment-friendly than the road and railways. The amount of carbon emitted to transport goods by road and rail is not the same as that of ships.
"In order to reduce waterlogging, tidal regulators should be placed at the mouth of the canals in such a way that there is no obstruction to trade on waterways," he added.