INLAND river transport is a neglected sector, with much of the government’s attention being invested in road infrastructure development. The waterways are, therefore, increasingly becoming more risky and accident-prone. At least three people went missing, as New Age reported on Saturday, after a trawler carrying 100 passengers capsized in the River Jamuna River on August 28 when it collided with a vessel laden with sand in the morning. Nearly a week after the accident, Fire Service and Civil Defence divers could rescue the victims. Such accidents are quite common on other river routes. In another accident, on August 18, a trawler laden with brick capsized in the River Meghna near Munshiganj because of overloading. While workers on board could be rescued, the trawler could not be salvaged. Bangladesh has a comparatively higher waterway accident rate in South Asia. In 264 accidents, as the Accident Research Institute says, 1430 people died and 265 went missing between 2005 and 2017. The prevailing situation only reflects the failure of the authorities concerned.
Recent waterway accidents took place mostly because of unauthorised plying of vessels laden with sand by unskilled masters on different routes. Considering the risk, the Water Transport Authority has barred vessels carrying sand from plying the route from sunset to sunrise. The ban has, however, not been followed by the masters. Early this year, at least eight accidents took place on the Barisal route from direct collision with vessels laden with sand. It is not that just the authorities are weak in enforcing regulations. In some cases, people are forced to take risky river rides as there are no other affordable, faster options available. Travellers on Aricha-Kazirhat and Paturia-Daulatdia river routes continue riding trawlers to cross the Jamuna and the Padma risking their lives as this is the cheapest available option for them. The authorities concerned took no effective steps to stop the engine-run boats, meant for fishing, from carrying passengers. Forty trawlers are in operation on the two routes carrying passengers and the Inland Water Transport Authority is fully aware of the risky services. After the recent accidents, BIWTA officials have instructed the local office to stop the risky vessels. While it is important to identify and stop the risky vessels, it will not bring any sustainable change unless alternative modes of safe river transport is made available.
Time and again, researchers and passenger rights groups have identified the main reasons for the frequent waterway accidents that include unskilled masters, the plying of unfit, unauthorised river transports and inadequate monitoring of the sector. Taking into account the fatal failure in the sector, the government must radically restructure the river transport sector, immediately stop the plying of unfit launches and strictly monitor the fitness certification process. In the long run, the government must work out an integrated transport system plan that will equally invest in the development of road, railway and river transport systems.
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