As many as 16% rural people, or 2.66 crore citizens, of the country still do not have any permanent road within two kilometres of their houses, say government data.
Most of the people suffering from inadequate infrastructure belong to riverine areas, haor region and southeastern Chattogram Hill Tracts zone. For them, no road means poor access to health and education, exclusion from social safety net programmes, and rock-bottom prices for their agri-produces.
For instance, 50-year-plus Lal Mohammad lives in Char Panka union of the north-western district Chapainawabganj. The riverine tract he lives in is surrounded by water, and populated by around 1.5 lakh people.
Elderly Mohammad needs to travel to Chapainawabganj district hospital for treatments, which he said is almost "a Herculean task" since his village does not have any permanent road.
Lawmakers' allocation demand for road construction in rural Bangladesh dominate the pre-budget discussion every year. And the Local Government Division usually gets handsome allocation in every national budget as accordingly.
According to the state-run Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) data, currently 84% people of the country are under the Rural Access Index (RAI) – a parameter which gauges the rural population who live within two km of an all-season road. The RAI is also a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicator that aims to ensure a road network within two kilometres of each household by 2030.
Originally developed by the World Bank in 2006, the RAI is among the most important global development indicators in the transport sector, providing a strong, clearly understandable and conceptually consistent indicator across countries.
The government also has set its target in the Eighth Five Year Plan to raise the RAI performance to 90% from existing 84% by 2025. The five-year masterplan says 33,000 km more roads will have to be constructed in rural areas to attain the performance target.
Development experts think it is high time the LGED began the road constructions since the development works require three to five years for completion. Otherwise, Bangladesh may miss the RAI target set in the five-year plan as well as in the SDGs.
Mohammad Yunus, senior research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the road infrastructure-deprived people live sort of captive lives.
"Usually, the people are below the poverty line. If we can provide them with road networks, poverty alleviation will be easier," he told The Business Standard.
The BIDS senior research fellow thinks if the unions and upazilas are connected to the transportation networks, basic facilities such as healthcare, education and banking could be ensured to the peripheral people.
"Roads bring in trade and investment opportunities. Better communication also boosts agri-production through modern farm technologies, and improves the supply network. These generate new jobs, and ensure fair prices to the farmers and entrepreneurs for their products," he added.
A number of Planning Commission officials said they approve scores of projects involving costs of thousands of Taka every year as per proposals of the Local Government Division. But most of the projects include rural roads only if there are political gains.
They said some infrastructural development projects recently concluded in haor areas improving the overall road connectivity in the region. But there are hardly such development schemes either in char or hill tracts districts.
TBS tried to reach Local Government Division Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed in this regard, but to no avail.
Wishing not to be named, a top official of the division said they would take up more infrastructural projects after identifying the less developed areas.
"Our works in the haor region have already brought visible changes to the lives and livelihood of people. Similarly, we will connect the hill tracts and char people to the road network," added the official.
Zahid Rahman, member secretary of the National Char Alliance, people in remote riverine areas face severe sufferings to transport goods, and the poor roads result in throwaway prices to the farmers.
"Similarly, the peripheral people do not get proper healthcare. Students in those areas do not want to go to the schools. Besides, people do not get the benefits of numerous government services," he noted.
Zahid Rahman emphasised more allocation for the char areas in the national budget.