The Bus Rapid Transit project has been a source of suffering for people travelling around a key road through Dhaka’s Uttara to Gazipur since its inception.
The transitway is part of the Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport project funded by the Asian Development Bank.
A girder lifted by a crane under the government project in Uttara came crashing down on a passing car, killing five members of a family inside the vehicle on Monday.
Two other members of the family, a newly married couple, were rescued from the crushed vehicle and sent to the hospital after the accident occurred around 4:15 pm in front of the Paradise Tower on Jashimuddin Road.
A day later, the city authorities suspended all work on the project, saying proper safety measures were not taken while work was ongoing.
“Accidents are happening every few days. People are suffering more and more. We cannot allow development work to continue this way. We must first ensure the safety of our city’s residents,” Dhaka North City Mayor Atiqul Islam said after visiting the disaster site.
There were two previous girder accidents on the project, one of which led to another death.
Those who frequently use the road have expressed their concern over the accidents, saying it makes them nervous to travel on that route.
Claims of mismanagement have dogged the project since the start. However, the project’s stakeholders say that if the deals with contractors are terminated in response to the disasters and mismanagement, it will create new problems.
Dhaka Bus Rapid Transit Company, which is responsible for implementing the project, says the authorities want to complete the work with the existing contractors. The government awarded civil works contracts to four companies, including China Gezhouba Group Corporation. Gezhouba, which was responsible for the construction of the section where the girder came down on the car, now faces a legal case filed by the family of the victims.
AKM Manir Hossain Pathan, the director of the DBRTC and chief engineer of the Roads and Highways Department, told bdnews24.com on Tuesday that action has always been taken against any irregularities.
“The project’s financier, the ADB, is aware of the claims, as is the Planning Commission. Everyone knows. We have held many meetings with them and discussed these matters. But changing the contractor and starting again will give rise to new problems. That is why we are thinking of finishing the project with them.”
Several attempts were made to contact BRT Project Director Md Mohirul Islam Khan on his mobile phone to question him about these numerous allegations, but he did not pick up.
The Roads and Highway Division is in charge of the Gazipur-Shahjalal International Airport segment of the project while the Bridges Division is supervising the Uttara House Building-Tongi Cherag Ali Market section.
The government started the project in 2012 in an effort to mitigate the traffic logjam on the Dhaka to Tongi and Gazipur routes. It was initially supposed to be completed in 2016. The date was later pushed to December this year.
However, the construction work on the project was only 65 percent complete in July 2021. In the meantime, the authorities have done little to reduce the suffering it caused and address public safety issues over the years.
Recently, several lanes were shut on the stretch of road due to the project. Last week, a notice from the DMP’s Traffic Division asked those travelling to the airport, Uttara and Gazipur via Khilkhet to begin their trips with “more time in hand” amid severe tailbacks.
Mohammad Nurullah, a doctor residing in Uttara, said: “I don’t know if another project has caused so much trouble. They are building the rapid transit in the middle of the road, but the roads on either side are so narrow that other vehicles can’t pass through. There was congestion on the road before. And it’s getting worse as it nears completion.”
Another resident of Uttara, Anita Sharmin Mim, said: “I passed through the road on a bus minutes before [the accident]. This could’ve also happened to me. Our lives are so uncertain.”
Meher Nigar Mahzabeen, who is a first-year student at Bangladesh Home Economics College, travels to her college in Farmgate from Uttara every day. She pointed out that the uneven roads often cause buses to lean over during trips.
“Sometimes the buses stay leaning during jams. This is very dangerous. Something similar happened on Airport Road a few days ago as well. Part of a span came loose and fell down during the construction. It only missed our bus by inches.”
Pradipta Mobarak, the public relations officer at Uttara University, travels from Banani to Uttara regularly. He said the trip from Banani to the airport was not too bad but the journey from there to the House Building Finance Corporation was "really tough" as one section of the road was dug up on either side.
“The work is not following any plan, this much I can say. This is the only way to travel outside Dhaka in many cases. But it is life-threatening. Nobody cares.”
Afrin Siddiqui lives in Uttara sector No. 5 and travels to Motijheel for her job. She said the construction of airport terminal No. 3 and the express highway is putting the lives of commuters at risk.
“I'm very upset after the accident today. I saw those girders with my own eyes the day before yesterday. These girders are being lifted while vehicles pass by. It’s terrifying.”
DMP Commissioner Shafiqul Islam said those who are in charge of the development projects are responsible for ensuring public safety.
“Police have no role here. But we do try to make sure that people don't suffer during the commute by road. We advise and assist them.”
Architect Iqbal Habib said the BRT project was plagued with mismanagement since the start and that is causing people to suffer.
He said it took a long time to pool finances for the project, its pre-evaluation was unsatisfactory and it received no assistance from Dhaka and Gazipur city corporations due to a lack of consultation.
Iqbal also pointed out that the Planning Commission had provided money to ensure public safety and reduce suffering, but the required steps were never taken.
“Before this tragedy, a security worker died and a storekeeper was injured, but all of that went unpunished. I’ll say all the casualties were caused by negligence.”