” To be or not to be” comments A. Mannan
Bangladesh is a land of ‘tal, tamal and peyal,’ so is it for khal, beel and haor. A prudent Govt. in such a country shall have to rationalize priority sequences of its functions in order to undertake for execution most judiciously. In a nut shell, we, thus, come across issues like emergency operations, quarterly, annual and bi-annual programmes, five-year plan as well as perspective plan, with national and people’s interests gearing as pivot in the decision making.
In case of building an infrastructure to tap its potentials considerations should centre around :
i) Study and data on such existing capacity, available unutilized capacity, potential for further expansion and its time frame.
ii) Available alternatives, options and cost benefit ratio (CBR).
iii) Effects on environment.
iv) Far reaching issues.
v) People’s concerns and so on.
Having considered the above alongwith all other relevances, we may have to take into cognizance before taking a decision to build the proposed airport and satellite city that Arial beel is an enclave encaged by the Districts of Dhaka and Munshigonj and the mighty river Padma, what was once used to be called “Vikrampur”. Arial beel is perhaps the 2nd largest beel, rich in agricultural productions e.g. rice, jute, potatoes, robi crops, spices, vegetables, and fish as well as a wandering ground (a sanctuary) for birds of numerous species in large number.
We need to be fortified with the following data as safe-guards for or against any wrong interpolation.
(1) : Area :
(i) Area is 26 miles in length and 10 miles in width.
= 260 sq. miles = 1,66,600 acres.
(ii) The above area encompasses accommodation for villages, agricultural land for crops, wet land for crops, fish and as birds sanctuary.
(iii) Proposed land area for Airport = 10,000 acres as against 2000 acres of existing Hazrat Shahjalal airport.
and for Satellite city = 15,000 acres.
i.e. total area needed is 25,000 acres of which 60% is agricultural land accommodating many villages also and 40% wet land.
(iiii) Reportedly 14 mouzas of Srinagar of Dist. Munshigonj and 18 mouzas of Nawabgonj and 7 mouzas of Dohar, Dist. Dhaka have now initially been tagged for Airport and Satellite City.
(II) : Crops and fish annual production of the 25,000 acres land :
(i) Rice = 40,000 MT
(ii) Fish = 700 MT
(iii) Vegetables and spices etc = 10,000 MT
(iv) Wetland accommodates birds sanctuary for wandering and feeding for 100’s of species of birds in hundreds-and- thousands in number. Moreover, a study is likely to reveal that crops and birds excretion contaminated water of the beel while receding down through Padma also contributes in attracting hilsa fish population coming upstream.
(III) : Land Survey records :
(i) Cadastral Survey (C.S) started in 1888 from Cox’s Bazar and ended in 1940 at Dinazpur. The Arial beel area was perhaps surveyed during the 1930’s.
(ii) State Acquisition (S.A) started in 1956 and ended in 1962.
(iii) Revisional Survey (R.S) started in 1965 and till now on-going process (specially in some hilly areas)
(iv) Field Survey took place a few years back in Dhaka City.
The present authority concerned has perhaps crystalized its idea for acquisition of land based on C.S. records of almost 100 years old having disregarded the sea-changes taken place over the century with regard to establishment of villages, industries, infrastructures and overall changes in the terrain of the land. In other words all the data, now being considered are meaningless, irrelevant, -and perhaps of museum records.
The proposed site for the international airport and satellite city will engulf 100’s of villages at the destitution of lacs of villagers, having practically no khasland as most already leased out/sold out and causing huge losses of crops and fish.
(IV) : Analytical comments on I, II, and III above :
(i) Crops, vegetables, spices, and fish are quickly renewable resources. Since Bangladesh, most densely populated country, suffers from, in addition, loss of land due to river erosion, salinity of water up from the sea, indiscriminate construction of infrastructure whereas population is growing faster than the projection displayed by records, production of food is bound to play as a major factor for the masses.
(ii) Forest is a relatively long term renewable resource and can be planted in areas where rice can seldom be cultivated (e.g- hills, roadsides, emerging landmass, on the barrages as protection.)
(V) : Recharging process of sub-soil water by the rivers and wetlands i.e. Padma and Arial beel is an important asset. We must not do away with God-gifted resources by building the airport and city.
(VI) The terrain of Arial beel stretches from East to West, wherefrom it veers towards West-North direction. The proposed airport is likely to be East-West directional.
On the other hand Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is North-Southward i.e. the runway is 320° and 140° directional.
An aircraft lands and takes-off against the wind i.e. headwind. Our wind flow direction is 70% from South towards North (Summer-time) and 30% from North to South (Winter- Time)
The runway of the proposed airport in the Arial beel is likely to be East West directional. In other words since most of the landing and take-off shall take place in crosswinds, these will be hazardous and cumbresome for Air Traffic Control (ATC) and costlier too. It, thus, negates Arial beel site for the airport.
(VII) Mighty river Padma runs through the Southern side of the beel. Records show that Harirampur of Manikgonj, Dohar and Nawabgonj of Dhaka and Louhajang and Tongibari of Munshigonj sustain heavy erosion every year during the rainy season due to surge and pounding by Padma. Only time can tell when will this erosion engulf the proposed runway once built ?
(VIII) Satellite survey shows that there is a peat mine down below at a depth of the beel. Can the runway sustain high pressure per square inch (PSI) of heavy aircraft with full load of passengers and cargo? This needs to be studied at length and breadth for judicious assessment.
Piling works shall be of gigantic nature and may be cost-prohibitive. There has never been any extensive and comprehensive soil testing right across the beel, although this is essential before any decision has been made for the airport.
(IX) Flood water drainage: Airport and Satellite City infrastructure will hinder drainage of flood water flow. Obviously it will require a comprehensive flood protection strategy and planning.
(X): Earth filling: Water level in the beel area in the winter is 5 ft. and 30 ft. in the summer, requiring massive earth filling at an enormous cost.
(XI): Satellite City i.e. Bangabandhu City: The terrain of the land and the direction of the runway will locate the city either to East or West of the runway due to the width of the beel being only 10 miles as against length of 26 miles. In view of air funnel zone construction of high rise installations either East or West of the runway shall be restrictive and hence it will dwarf the construction of the city.
(XII) Environmental hazards and losses: Incalculable losses, damages and hazards to our ecosystem are bound to set in. Looking retrospectively I feel that most of the organisations raising movement for protection of environment like BAPA, BELA, NCC (Nature Conservation Committee) overlook any preventive measures against damages in order to maintain the status of the environment, whereas they are really overactive on the curative side of the issues like mobilization for public support for movement against pollution e.g. effluents contaminating the river Buriganga, Shitalaykhya and so forth. However all of them appear to be silent with regard to environmental havoc, as if death trap, the Arial beel will sustain, when transformed into an airport and a city.
(XIII) Cost of proposed airport: The Govt.’s estimated cost, as of now stands at TK. 50,000 crores. Most of the normal projects, history says so, go into cost-overrun by double. An enormous proposition like the proposed airport will require to develop and manage, with resolute ability, administration, co-ordination, funding arrangement, legal processing, rehabilitation procedure and process, constructional hazards and odds, a good time frame, price rise and inflation etc, when encompassed, will obviously multiply the original estimated cost by few times specially due to delay by a decade or two for completion of such a giant project.
(XIV): Existing capacity of Hazrat Shah Jalal Airport:
With one runway of 10500 ft, taxiway and all other facilities a survey estimates handling as follows:
(I) Aircraft movement in international flights
Year: 2010 2015 2020 2025
Flights: 25000 32000 42000 57000
(II) Peak hour aircraft movement and passengers
Year 2010 2015 2020 2025
Flights 10 14 20 29
Passengers 1500 2200 3200 4800
(III) As shown above number of passengers will triple in the next 20 years.
(IV) The existing capacity can handle 3 times of the present level operation till 2025 to 2030.
(V) The existing capacity of the runway can be increased further through convertion of the taxi way (subject to study on its limitation), or building another runway at the Westside through relocation of some existing installations thereat, installing high tech lighting system of the runway specially anti-fog lighting system, improving equipment and facilities of ATC.
(VI) Alternatives available: For any new proposition of a project, specially as colossal as an airport all the options and alternatives as are available need to be taken into account at length and breadth, carefully studied and analysed and their feasibility in crystal clear term has to be made to help process decision.
(I) One such option may be to select a high land forest area with thin population.
(II) Another : our Air Force needs much better facilities in terms of more personnel, better training, high tech equipment, bigger ground for training and maintenance facilities, war time safe-parking (specially some neighbour of ours has reportedly developed one and half dozens airodrums across the border). In other words we have got to make overall judicious improvement for our valiant heroes in the Air Force. Having kept this in view we may think of suitable shifting of the existing facilities of the Air Force from the West side of the runway at Shah Jalal and build literally another airport (and name the facility so created like a new airport the way you like) parallel to the existing runway creating all the required facilities at the West side. In such an event Hazrat Shah Jalal airport can function as domestic and regional airport and all international flights, save regional, can be handled through the Westside new airport in almost like that of Dubai airport model. Newly created facilities and capacities at the Westside as proposed will be no less than that at the proposed Arial beel Banga Bandhu Airport and the cost of construction and creation of the facilities will be to the bare minimum and only a small part of the cost savings can, if spent carefully and judiciously, invigorate our Air Force into a modern fighting force.
(XVI): Let us all urge upon the Govt. to rethink and review the whole gamut of building the airport at Arial beel site, go with the sentiment of the people specially the poorer section, with that of the civil societies, environmentalists, ad let factors of economy, rather than factors of politics and impulses play their part.
In fine, we may quote the famous story of invisible robe, the king and his wise counsels. The master tailor pomtomimically dressed the King with the invisible robe, learned counsels started praising the robe. The king came to his senses when a little boy cried out, “oh, look, the king is naked”. We need a little boy to fearlessly tell the Govt. the uncontaminated truth.
Former State Minister, Ministry of Civil Aviation & Tourism, Managing Director, Biman Bangladesh Airlines