Everyone expects road infrastructure development projects would bring a brave new world for the residents and local businesses. However, in Bangladesh, this doesn't happen all the time. An ill-planned railway overpass that was opened to vehicles in 2018 at Cumilla's Shashongacha is one such example of doing more harm than good.
Constructed with a budget of Tk59 crore to reduce traffic congestion in the busiest spot of the city, the overpass, also can be called flyover, caused Tk4,000 crore losses, a ballpark figure, for local businesses in just three years, and made sufferings for commuters, according to traders, entrepreneurs and city dwellers.
The 631-metre overpass on Cumilla's Shashongacha, Badsha Mia Bazar and Racecourse areas was opened to transports late 2018. Built with improper plans, it has brought a bad break particularly for the city's popular shopping mall Eastern Yakub Plaza, wholesale pharmacies and other shops at Badsha Mia Bazar, Shashongacha Bus Terminal, and growing real estate business in the Racecourse area.
"An effective and in-depth plan was needed before the overpass construction in such a crucial point of the city. The authorities also could have taken opinions from local representatives and businesspeople, which was ignored," said Mosleh Uddin, former principal of the Cumilla Medical College.
Lack of a well-studied plan for the large infrastructure caused the disaster for all, as a result, he told The Business Standard.
The overpass area is one of the three busiest centres of the city, while two others are Kandirpar and Chalkbazar.
Talking to this correspondent, traders there say they are now struggling to survive with sharply declined turnovers, and express their fear that the situation might worsen with the rolling of time if the authorities do not take steps immediately.
The key objective of the overpass was to reduce traffic congestion used to be created for train passes, but it failed to do so.
Visiting the spot several times, several large holes were seen full of rainwater and clay on the roads under the overpass, which were forcing an interruption in vehicle movement. Traffic congestion and train signal trigger the sufferings. Local people said even repair of the roads does not sustain due to the overloaded traffic there.
Supershop to housing– all losing customers
Eastern Yakub Plaza shop owners' body general secretary Monjurul Islam said, "We lost at least 30% of customers after the overpass construction."
"This is the peak season of sales, but we don't see our regular number of customers yet," he told The Business Standard, adding that the pandemic also took a toll on them.
"Customers are reluctant to come to the market due to the terrible road condition thanks to the unplanned overpass," added Monjurul.
Once the shopping mall, located in the Racecourse area, was unbeatable. With the increased number of markets in other parts of the city, it fell in competition. And finally, the overpass construction and subsequent terrible roads left under it made the Yakub plaza a loser.
According to the trade body of the Plaza, the 300 outlets of the mall incurred at least a Tk500 crore loss over the last five years since the construction of the overpass commenced.
Badshah Mia Bazar once had some 200 wholesale pharmacies to supply necessary medicine to other parts of the city. In the face of massive losses due to sharply declined customers for road suffering, a total of 25 pharmacies already left the area.
The majority shifted to another market adjacent to Paduar Bazar Bishwa Road. The rest are struggling to survive.
Cumilla Drugs Association General Secretary Jahirul Isalm said their sales (pharmacies at Badsha Mia Bazar) dropped by 50% over the last couple of years.
As per the estimation of the body, the traders' incurred a loss of TK1,915 crore in the last three years.
Monjurul Islam, also a resident of Racecourse area, observed that the promising real estate business in the once elite area suffered much.
Local people said construction of many buildings remained stopped as trucks carrying construction materials were failing to enter Racecourse crossing the overpass area due to traffic gridlock day and night. Hardly people are interested in living in or buying flats there.
Shasongacha terminal-based inter-district bus owners incurred at least TK1,000 crore in the few years, said Tajul Islam, general secretary of the Cumilla Motors Association.
People are now reluctant to spend higher time and money to come to the terminal, passing the terrible roads with huge congestion. They are moving to other stands. "As a result, we are losing a huge amount," he added.
Some 500 buses under 10 companies are being operated from the terminal, which depart for Dhaka, Sylhet and other destinations.
The second-biggest kitchen market of Cumilla city is located at Badsha Mia Bazar. The road condition also contributed to reduced customers in the market.
Badsha Mia Bazar trade association president Julfikar Aga Baset said, "The number of customers at our market dropped slightly."
Meanwhile, roadside shop owners said they are suffering a huge loss. "Once we sold sweet products of TK80,000 a day, it now came down to TK30,000," said Uzzal Kumar, manager of Bikrampur Shashi Bhandar Mithai. There are around 1,000 shops in the area under the overpass.
Mayor blames R&H
Contacted, Cumilla City Corporation Mayor Monirul Haque Sakku said the Roads and Highways Department was responsible for the unplanned overpass.
"The roads under the overpass are also under the same department. It is yet to repair the damaged roads despite our repeated calls," he told The Business Standard.
He also expressed his outrage over the terrible road conditions there.
The city mayor noted that the bus terminal would be transferred soon. "We already got a budgetary allocation. Now, land acquisition is going on."
He believes that the sufferings of commuters would decline largely with the terminal shifting.
Meanwhile, Cumilla RHD Engineer Reza-E-Rabbi informed this correspondent that a tender has been floated to reconstruct the roads. "The work will start soon," he added.