Barisal port in a declining state

Wafiur Rahman, back from Barisal
Thursday, October 26th, 2017


Death sentence of 150 yrs old Barisal River Port, second largest in the country, slowly executing due to passengers crisis, siltation and other issues. Photos - Dhaka Courier

 

Barisal River Port, a 154-year-old southern hub of transportation system connecting different parts of Bangladesh through waterways, is losing its importance due to declining navigability and lessening flow of passengers who are more attracted to road transport system nowadays.

 

Although the private sector has emerged as major players with more than 90% share in transportation of passengers and goods, a lack of proper regulation and incentive for higher investments is making the river port less useful day by day despite all potential benefits of using water routes.

 

Still, Barisal is the country’s second largest river port in terms of passenger handling after Dhaka and the fourth in terms of income after Dhaka, Narayanganj and Khulna. Currently, more than 18,000 passengers use this river port every day, according to sources at the local port authority.

It is also considered as a transit point between Mongla and Chittagong marine ports, Khulna and Dhaka and other river ports of Bangladesh as well as between Poshcim Bangla and Assam and Tripura of India.

 

Located at the divisional headquarters, this river port has a length of five kilometres on the western bank of the Kirtonkhola River. It is divided into different portions as single deck, double deck launches, rocket steamer and coastal shipping services and fishing ports.

 

History

 

The river station of Barisal Girdey Bandar, which was famous for salt trading, turned into Barisal Bandar (port) after the town committee was created in 1869 and given municipal status in 1876. In 1884, Bengal Central Flotilla Company introduced regular steamer service between Barisal and Khulna, the nearest railway station then.

 

The Barisal River Station of the district headquarters became a regional headquarters of erstwhile Indian General Navigation, River Steam Navigation, Indian General River Steamer companies in British period to connect North and Eastern part of Bengal with capital city Calcutta.

 

After the 1947 partition, Pakistan River Steamer Services was formed and handed over its service it to East Pakistan Inland Water Transport Authority (EPIWTA) in 1958. Formed under East Pakistan Inland Water Transportation Ordinance’ the EPIWTA gave Barisal River Station the status of River Port in 1960.

 

Development of the Port

 

The port development project covering construction of permanent terminal buildings and other facilities for transportation of passengers and goods was undertaken in 1964 for five major river ports – Dhaka, Barisal, Chandpur, Khulna and Narayanganj. Unfortunately, the project was not implemented in Barisal port and only a half-bricked tin-shed structure was built in 1980.

 

In March 2010, the Shipping Minister, Shahjahan Khan, laid the foundation stone of Barisal river port development and modernisation project which was scheduled to be completed by April 2011, said Shahnewaz Kabir, executive engineer of BIWTA Barisal zone.

 

Construction of necessary infrastructures, various facilities for safety, security and smooth operation of the port, river training and dredging and beautification of the adjoining areas were components of the project. It was not fully implemented as allegations have it, although the Prime Minister had in March 2013 inaugurated the port modernised at a cost of Tk. 17.6 crore.

 

Present state

 

As business went to the private sectors, the government has apparently lost its interest in developing the inland river routes, resulting in virtual death of such ports including Barisal, said Nasim Ul Alam, a development activist working in this sector.

 

Two decades ago, at least 400 launches used to ply from Barisal port to 78 routes. The number now came down to 35 water transports plying to only 28 routes of the region and the country.

 

The 264-km-long Barisal-Chittagong route remained closed since July 2011 due to shortage of vessels.

 

Khorshed Alam, vice-chairman of Barisal Launch Owners Association, said passenger services are operational only in eight routes regularly amid high financial and operating risks although local BIWTA claimed safe navigation in 28 routes. ‘I sold out the launches of my company and I now have to depend on house rent for running my family,’ he added.

 

Sheikh Abdur Rahim, another leader of the association, said he is now engaged in readymade garment business after after incurring losses in water transportation sector.

 

However, investments in development of routes and tourism facilities and introduction of new vessels can change the entire scenario as water transportation in the riverine southern region proved to be the most cost-effective means, stakeholders say.

 

‘To save the port, there is an urgent need to prepare a master plan, carry out hydrological and hydro-geographical survey, model study based capital dredging and modernisation of water transport fleets,’ said Saidur Rahman Rintu, president of Barisal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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