PM’s welcome gesture to students, it’s time to solve traffic jam

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina changed the venue of weekly cabinet meeting from the Secretariat to her office on Monday to give some relief to the students appearing in the SSC examinations that started yesterday.
Her gesture has been much appreciated by the students and their parents – who recalled sufferings during the SSC exams a year ago when former prime minister and BNP leader Khaleda Zia held the country virtually hostage during the entire spread of the school-end tests with series of strikes and attacks on vehicles with petrol bombs, killing scores of people.
But what the PM did yesterday can’t be done every day. She has daily work schedules to attend on time and she cannot just skip them to make the road free. Roads in Dhaka become precariously congested for other reasons like movement of VIPs and foreign dignitaries needing to meet the Prime Minister, President Abdul Hamid and others on high government and diplomatic jobs.
What the PM did on Monday does not indicate an end to Dhaka’s nagging traffic problem – which needs a long term solution not only to reduce people’s daily sufferings but to promote development, business and investment in the country.
Movement of vehicles on Dhaka roads is much more than they can absorb , resulting in gobbling up of footpaths on either side and leaving commuters struggle through virtually impassable walkways Traffic congestions – which eats up several work hours of an individual each day. This becomes nastier because of inconclusive construction of flyovers in the capital which instead of easing people’s movement have further slowed down their life. It spoils fuel, man hours and energy of the people living in the capital. In no important city around the world one will find manual traffic system that exists in Dhaka.
The authorities keep extending deadline for completing the flyovers and allocate extra money for them but with no accountability for the work left undone or the money lost due to additional tenure of work. Who is to blame?
The PM and other good souls in her government do want the development projects including flyovers finished on time, footpaths left to the pedestrians and public avenues catering to the need of the citizens. But the scenarios are totally different on the ground.
Owing to such callousness of the contractors, builders and concerned officials the country’s development efforts have been hampered seriously. Many important projects slip behind their schedules. This should be averted, by all means.
The Prime Minister did a symbolic gesture considering the plight of the SSC examinees but it’s for temporary relief. She cannot keep away from all activities during the month long SSC examination or some such as she has other priorities. It is high time now to look for a permanent solution to the regular traffic gridlock in capital Dhaka.
Traffic jam was a problem in many other prime cities in the world, particularly in Asia. Bangkok, New Delhi and Kolkata were known for notorious traffic. But they have solved the problem to a large extent by measures such as building many flyovers, over-head and under-ground railways and also introducing “even number, uneven number” vehicles to ply particular roads on alternate days. Whereas, in our country flyover construction, given endless life and unlimited expenditures, cause extra sufferings to the commuters and people living around. Take the example of Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover which is under construction for years beyond the original deadline – and surprisingly it seems it is no one’s headache. Extreme sufferers are people who toil hours daily to get a pass by that zone.
The Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover recently got another big (about two years) extension of time for completing construction., By that time the number of vehicles will multiply and gridlock on the roads will increase. So, where is the relief for the people? Anything that doesn’t finish on time increases plight of the people. But we, our planners and implementers all ignore this invariable reality. The government gives them extra time and money to get the project going – but to no use than allowing further misappropriations.
Bangladesh has seen tremendous development efforts over the last seven years of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s rule. She is the most active, dynamic and charismatic leader Bangladesh has ever had after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu dreamt “Sonar Bangla” and his daughter Sheikh Hasina is trying to make it real. But her efforts often met with frustratingly poor performance by officials, engineers, planners, material suppliers and contractors. It is often alleged that they work hand in hand to steal the times and get additional money to keep the project going while inflating their own pockets.
Dhaka virtually has one principal road running from Hazrat Shahjalal Airport through the PM’s Tejgaon office to the Presidential palace Bangabhaban – with arteries touching upon the Parliament House and PM’s official residence Ganobhaban. But Dhaka is much more than these.
Home to more than 15 million people, Dhaka is also known for poor amenities, utilities and services.
The two new Mayors of Dhaka City Corporations are now trying to bust illegal and hazardous constructions and make the roads and illegally occupied lands free as much as they can. But so far the footpaths and walkways in the capital are still occupied by unauthorised occupants, mostly small traders who do their business by paying toll to the police and political activists, belonging to ruling party.
Though police have often swooped on illegal footpath business, they failed to evict them permanently. Now-a-days the law enforcers themselves are grabbing portions of the footpaths and roadside areas to set up “police box.” Along the city’s main road, including in front of the National Press Club, police boxes have sprung up alarmingly and they just add to the “nuisance” the citizens confront day in and day out.
There is no one to check to police’s ventures or the continuing illegal occupation of the walkways by political influence that cause immense sufferings and inconvenience to the commuters and padestrians.
Dhaka’s traffic jam is one of the worst in the world, where patients in screaming ambulances often become more sick on the road before reaching hospital. The sick and old are among the worst sufferers while the school going children spend part of their energy on the road. Parents accompanying them to and from the schools experience the ‘hell’ on the roads.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s welcome gesture towards the students on Monday should serve as a reminder to all that she was pointing to a glaring issue of critical public concern which should not only be mitigated but removed permanently through proper planning and time-bound implementation.
Dhaka has grown manifold in the past decades and is still growing with streams of people from all over the country converging in the capital. So, we need to do something to save the city from becoming literally unlivable.