Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rowdy ride for millions

Millions of holidaymakers, in a mad dash to reach their rural homes to celebrate the Eid-ul-Azha, meandered through terrible traffic congestion and were hamstrung by scarcity of transports.
In many areas, the homebound people had to endure tailbacks going back as far as 20 kilometres on the highway as the police were ill-equipped to manage the rush out of the capital.
The first spell of congestions were found on the fringes of the capital including Uttara-Ashulia, Kachpur-Jatrabari, and Aminbazar-Savar area. Many put the opposition’s general strike on Sunday down to the trouble as the inter-district bus and launch schedules were turned upside down by the countrywide shutdown.
People still tried to rescue their travel plans fetching whatever transport available.
Yesterday was the last working day for the office-goers before the five-day vacation including the two weekend holidays.
eid shopping
“Since many could not leave the capital on Sunday due to the daylong hartal, today we find the maximum pressure of the home-bound people,” the superviser of an inter-district bus service said yesterday.
Talking to The independent at Gabtali Bus Terminal, Rehana Begum, who was on way to Khulna, said even though she was lucky to get a bus ticket, she was not sure whether she could reach her destination since the bus company had returned her ticket.
Ariful Huq, who was waiting at Gabtali with her wife to get to his village home in Jessore, said he had been celebrating Eid festival with his family every year. But due to the shutdown, he was doubtful whether he would make it this time.
Huq said despite frantic search he could not collect tickets.
Many like Mozammel Haque have altogether dropped the idea of visiting their families and friends during the Eid, due mainly to tickets not being available. There were too few train tickets to cope with the rush of the passengers.
A severe traffic gridlock on 20km stretch from the western part of the Bangabandhu Bridge to Hatikumrul on the Dhaka-Bogra Highway left hundreds of vehicles stranded.
The congestion, triggered by erratic movement of vehicles heading to northern districts from the capital, meant it was taking two hours to cross the 20km distance.
The number of night coaches, buses, trucks, cars and microbuses increased significantly since Sunday night, resulting in the jam right after crossing the bridge. And despite their best efforts, the police are finding it difficult to contain the congestion.
M Delwar Hossain, Sirajganj Additional Superintendent of Police, said additional police personnel had been deployed on that section of the highway to clear the road.
Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad was stuck in the traffic at 11:00am and the police used a detour to put him through.
According to many, the cattle markets in Gabtali, Saidabad and Mohakhali also contributed to the traffic congestions.
“From Gabtali to Mirpur Technical area vehicles were driving bumper to bumper with each other due to the Gabtali cattle market, the largest in the country,” bus passenger Mohammed Hossain said. He added that it had taken them 45 minutes to pass the one kilometer area yesterday afternoon.
The bustling city of nearly 15 million, famous for its notorious traffic, is expected to wear a deserted look with the most vehicles staying off the main city streets.
As Friday and Saturday are weekly holidays in government and some other offices, most left the capital after attending their offices yesterday.
The Bangladesh Secretariat, the country’s administrative hub, had handful of staff after the lunch break yesterday.
Security in Sayedabad, Mohakhali and Gabtoli inter-district bus terminals, Kamalapur Railway Station and Sadarghat launch terminal have been beefed up with the deployment of Rapid Action Battalion, paramilitary BDR and the police.
Huge rushes were there in all the three inter-district bus terminals, Motijheel BRTC bus terminal, Kamalapur Railway Station and Sadarghat launch terminal.
People started crowding Sadarghat shortly after noon for spaces on the decks of the launches as cabins had already been booked.
With the passage of every hour, minutes seemed to stretch longer for passengers stuck at the ferry piers between Paturia and Daulatdia, with little chances of their ordeal ending soon. Ferry services, in this sector, have badly been hit by depleting water levels, which, coupled with the rush in view of Eid-ul-Azha, have led to the formation of tailbacks, sometimes even stretching over five kilometres.
The extent of the tailback can be gauged by the fact that 500 buses and trucks, and 400 small vehicles were found to be waiting at the crossing, until 5.00 pm on Monday.
According to Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) sources, depleting water-levels, along with shortage of boats and mismanagement, are the principle reasons to blame for regular interruptions in the ferry service on the Paturia-Daulatdia channel.
Officer-in-charge at Daulatdia ghat police outpost, Firoj Ahamed, said that the ever-increasing queue had particularly been troublesome for women and children.
BIWTC assistant general manager at Daulatdia ghat, Md. Khaded Newaj, claimed the disruptions in the movement of river traffic was due to poor navigability of the river channel. He added that the Padma and the Jamuna have lost navigability in different points in the region here.
BIWTA deputy director at Aricha Region, Joynal Abedin, said that the required water level for normal movement of vessels should be 10-12 feet deep, but currently there were only 5-6 feet of water in pockets on the river channel, which made navigation difficult.
Md. Golam Mostafa, port officer of BIWTA, at the Aricha sector, told The Independent that the water level at Aricha point was low, making navigation difficult for vessels.
BIWTA has begun dredging the river, in order to get rid of 15 lakh cubic metre sediments, in two phases, on Paturia-Daulatdia chanel. Six dredgers had been pressed in to service, to remove silt, but sources allege that the present situation could have been averted if dredging work was taken up on time.
BIWTC manager (com.) at Aricha sector, Md. Ashrafulla Khan, said that the rush of home-bound people was responsible for such disruptions in the ferry service. “Current capacities allow us to handle around 2,500 vehicles a day. But we have to carry around 5,000 vehicles a day, throughout the festival period, which puts a lot of pressure on the operations,” he said.
Thousands of home-bound people thronged the area, creating a mad rush on the ferry ghats and the roads leading to the ghats. In the ensuing chaos, bus fares have started shooting up, adding to the sufferings of the passengers.
Delower Hossain, a Jessore-bound passenger, reached Paturia ghat from Dhaka, on Monday afternoon. A bus conductor of Nabin Baran Paribahan charged him Tk. 200 for travelling up to Paturia, Delower alleged.
Md. Masud Karim, the superintendent of police in Manikganj, told The Independent that plain-clothes detectives, special branch detectives, NSI personnel and additional police forces have been deployed at Paturia Ferry and Launch Terminal, in order to maintain law and order.
The law-enforcement agencies have put up a banner at Paturia bus terminal, asking drivers to stop charging exorbitant fares, but passengers’ experiences have a different tell to tale.
-The Independent

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