A 29.73 kilometre road constructed for smooth communication in three upazilas in the haor region of Kishoreganj has instead been wreaking havoc in the areas, causing untimely flooding and damaging paddy crops on thousands of hectares of land.
According to locals of Itna, Mithamoin and Astagram upazilas, the road, constructed between 2016-2020 at a cost of Tk874.08 crore, has impeded the flow of upstream water into the rivers through the haor.
Saidul Islam, a farmer from Tahirpur, Sunamganj, said that every year water accumulated in the haor area in March-April and flowed into the rivers quickly. "But now it gets trapped here for days, damaging paddies. This problem has been prevalent for the last few years."
Many said the Boro paddy, the only crop cultivated in the haor area, was frequently submerged by floods in April this year, causing damages of around Tk1,000 crore.
The impact of the road has prompted locals, experts and even the cabinet to look into the matter and not build any more roads in the haor area.
A key reason for the failure of the road has been the lack of an environmental survey.
Dr Md Khalequzzaman, environmental scientist and professor of geology at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, USA, said in a recent interview that a proper environmental survey was not carried out before the construction of the road.
He said, "The feature of the haor is the free flow of water. I suggested that if the road had to be built, at least 30% of the 30-kilometre road should be built in the form of a high bridge or flyover to allow water flow. Another feature of this road is that it is not creating any connectivity in a big sense."
Khalequzzaman said, "It has only been two years since the road was constructed. The environmental impact of this road will be more clearly felt in the event of major floods."
Nitesh Barua, executive engineer, RHD, Kishoreganj, said, "Since the matter is under high-level consideration, I will not comment on it. But I can say that presently there is no water on either side of the haor. And there are many bridges to allow the water to flow."
He also said that the cabinet meeting on 18 April decided that no more roads would be built in the haor after the untimely floods this year.
Kasmir Reza, president of the Environment and Haor Development Organisation, said, "Constructing such a road in the middle of the haor is an act against nature. This is disrupting the flow of water.
"There are not enough bridges on the road to allow the water to flow easily. The length of the drainage system of the road is only 900 metres. It takes more time for the water in the haor to flow down to the rivers. As a result, the water in the haor remains for days."
He added, "The crops in the haor lands can be severely damaged even if those remain submerged only for two days. A lot of paddies could rot due to this."
Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), Sylhet, said, "Not only the all-weather road of Kishoreganj, but other roads in the haor area are also causing flooding problems. The biodiversity of the haor is being damaged due to the situation.
"There should not be any road in the haor. The authorities should develop a modern water transportation system here."
Water from incessant rain upstream in Meghalaya and Assam of India flows down to the Meghna River in Kishoreganj through rivers and haors in the Sylhet region. Locals said the all-weather road disrupts the free flow of water.
According to the Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Kishoreganj, the 29.73 km long all-weather road has 3 PC girders with a length of 590.47 metres, and 62 RCC box culverts with a length of 190 metres and 11 RCC girder bridges of 269.68 metres.
After the April cabinet meeting, Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam said that people concerned have been directed to consider increasing the number of bridges to increase the flow of water in the haor area.
Besides, the RHD has been directed to conduct surveys in this regard to gauge the possibility of constructing 150m to 200m bridges on the road at every half kilometre distance.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said at the meeting that from now on only flyovers will be built in the haor areas, not high roads.
A total of 414 haors cover an area of 14,536 sq km in 50 upazilas of seven districts of Sunamganj, Habiganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Brahmanbaria.
Since the haor area is submerged in water for most of the year, there is no crop in that area during that time. During the dry season, boro crops are grown in most parts of the haor. About 16% of the total paddy production in Bangladesh comes from the haor area.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, Boro paddy has been planted on 9.50 lakh hectares of land in the six haor districts this year.