Move to rid water transport of mess

Being the most affordable and secured communication system, the government is determined to bring discipline on the country’s water transport sector to make it transparent and accountable.

The waterways communications area affordable and secure, and the sector need to be properly developed. 

According to official figures, 35 percent of the country's people travel by waterways. But unfortunately, since the independence of the country, in the last 49 years, no survey on water transports was conducted in the country. As a result, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has no exact statistics of the number of passenger-carrying water vessels and cargo ships operating across the country as well. 

Government sources said, the number of water transports registered with the Department of Shipping is a little more than 14,000. Of them, about eight thousand are surveyed (fitness test) every year. The rest of the vessels are being operated without any fitness test and route permits.

According to unofficial statistics, the number of vessels operating across the country is more than 60,000 as the ballpark figure and most of them are operated without any kind of monitoring or supervision.

It shows that the monitoring system or surveillance in the water transport sector is almost in a disarray. Therefore, accidents are taking places causing deaths and casualties to hundreds of people. In the last 20 years, more than 4,800 people died and several thousand others sustained injuries in 65 accidents while the number of people missing is more than one thousand 1,100.

Experts say despite being the safest communications system in our country, the water transport sector does not get proper importance. Rather, this sector is being neglected. Had any other countries enjoyed such a natural naval communications opportunity, they could have changed their economy. We have resources but we can't use them, experts opined. Compared to budget allocation in the road sector, it is scanty in the water transport sector.

According to experts, water transport sector seems to be pushed towards destruction in a planned manner. Necessary steps are not being taken to protect the rivers. The boundaries of the river are yet to be marked. Whatever has been done is to appease the land sharks. Maps of the rivers are being changed in a planned manner. The experts urged the authorities concerned to take strong initiative to save this sector.

Experts in the maritime sector say the field level information shows a lack of oversight in the entire waterway sector. As a result, anyone can get the opportunity to operate a water transport across the country at will. This is the main reason why accidents are not decreasing. Recommendations to avert accidents are not being implemented. The waterways are shrinking, routes are being closed.

Ashish Kumar Dey, general secretary of the National Committee on the Protection of Waterways and Railways, said the government as well as non-governmental organisations are working hard to build a secure communications system. Various initiatives have been taken in the public interests.

State Minister for Shipping, Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said that it is not possible to solve the long-standing problem overnight. 

“We have identified all the irregularities and mismanagement. The government has taken various steps for the development of the waterways sector”, said the State Minister.

He said, "You have seen that the rivers had been occupied for ages. We are now determined to recover them with strong hands. Questions about the water communications systems will also be resolved. There will be no more scopes of operating water transport without rules and regulations. Necessary steps are also being taken to prevent accidents.