Last week, I had been at my village home in Mirsarai, Chittagong on a three-day family tour. My cousin, who lives in London, joined us there.We had actually planned three months back to tour the villages where we used to roam around in our childhood days. Things have changed drastically over the last two decades. The villages alongside the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway in Mirsarai and elsewhere have taken a new shape, effacing everything. These villages have lost the natural beauty they once had even 20 years ago.
Brick kilns are now all around as construction works are going on in every village as the number of middle-class families is growing. Families are expanding and splitting every day, raising the number of dwelling houses. More and more people are going abroad for making fortune. On return, they build houses on paddy-growing lands. And in the process this ‘Golden Bengal’ is losing its golden lands fast.
From small to heavy industries are being set up on farmland as well since the country has no policy to dictate where to establish mills and factories and how to protect the shrinking arable land. Construction of roads and highways have also turned out to be an onslaught on the country’s farmland draining down money from the national exchequer in addition to destroying hundreds of thousands of houses, mosques, educational institutions. The way the things are moving there will come a day when people will not be able to live at all in nearby areas of the roads and highways.
Now time has come for visionary planning as suggest by experts. They say a long-term solution is needed to the growing conflict between development and land protection. The Roads and Highways Department has come up with a project for building an at-grade six-lane expressway (through land) alongside the existing Dhaka-Chittagong Highway which will force the government to go for the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of land devastating hundreds of villages along the road.
But, transport experts, while talking to UNB, said going for surface roads in a country like Bangladesh is not at all a good idea. According to them, constructing elevated expressways is a better option than the at-grade one in consideration of the country’s land shortage.
They say developing roads by acquiring land is an old method. High standard roads can be constructed using minimum land if the government goes for elevated expressway option. Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is the country’s economic corridor. The government should ensure multimodal transport corridor on this route integrating land use. If pillars can ensure its multipurpose use that will be wonderful as it can help save thousands of acres of land across the country.
Keeping this view in mind, Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) has taken a Tk 80,000 crore plan to construct a 220-km elevated expressway having multi-modal transport corridor over Dhaka-Chittagong highway to boost trade ensuring faster communication between the two major cities, says a UNB report.
Once the elevated expressway is constructed with rail tracks, the report mentions, passengers will be able to travel from one city to another within one hour by speedy trains while it will take two hours by buses, claim BBA officials. A Chinese company was learned to have given a proposal to the government to implement the gigantic project. The Prime Minister was also said to have already approved the elevated expressway plan.
This not a problem for Bangladesh alone; almost all countries of the world are facing it. Environmentalists across the world are worried at the rapid loss of land due to expansion works. They say underground highways and byways could be another option to deal with it.
Though we have not been able to give the due focus on train services, this is true that the best mode of transport is train, and more importantly this is a very environment-friendly one. People like travelling by trains, but Bangladesh has not got the countrywide network yet. People are not happy with the standards of facilities being offered by Bangladesh Railway. The complaint of schedule collapse is now a regular affair. You will not get train tickets at counters either, but ticket touts will give the ones as soon as you ask for.
Bangladesh economy is growing fast with the boom in the size of its middle class. The size of middle-class population is expected to soar to one-third of the total population by 2033, which is now 20 percent, whose per day income is now 2 to 3 US dollars. The country has no option but to develop its road connectivity across the country. But, we will have to do that with well-thought-out planning so the country’s environment and the landscape are not harmed in any way.
Last year, Housing Minister Mosharraf Hossain bemoaned that building houses on arable land is nothing but ‘a crime’ and stressed the importance of having a new law in place to protect the country’s croplands. He also talked about having a legal provision that will make it mandatory to seek permission from the UNO or official concerned for building houses on farmlands.
The minister also rightly said that Bangladesh’s food autarky would be at stake if the arable lands are damaged with setting of brick kilns and carrying out unplanned development works. Almost a year has elapsed since the minister voiced his grave concern over shrinking farmland and talked about following Chinese housing policy but we have not yet seen anything concrete on the ground for planned housing as a way forward in Bangladesh.
It is not about expressing concern but the action, which the country desperately needs to save its land. We must stop destroying our land building surface roads and other commercial structures without taking into account the fact that we have now a very limited amount of croplands. We need to save the land. So, actions must follow the words.