Ignoring govt restrictions
People are not listening to us at all. If we force them off the vehicles, they just walk to the pier and wait hours for a ferry. The moment a ferry docks, they rush in
Said Police Inspector
Abu Sayeed form Mawa: Passengers are packed so close they can feel each other’s breath. There is only standing room on the ferry and from the deck to the staircase, the railing to the prayer room, every inch of the ferry is taken up by a body.
There is no room for luggage, so many carry bags on their heads.
Most have no mask at all, and those who do have pulled them down due to the heat.
Scenes of desperation played out on a Madaripur-bound ferry that left the Shimulia ferry port in Munshiganj carrying dozens of vehicles and close to a thousand of passengers yesterday.
Despite the health restrictions imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the passengers were desperate to travel.
Large crowds of people have been leaving Dhaka and the surrounding districts through Shimulia to reach southern Bangladesh on the other side of the Padma River.
The suspension of public transport means they are paying exorbitant fees to reach their destinations.
Come rain or shine, people are braving the pandemic to try and get home before Bangladesh enters a ‘strict lockdown’ from Jul 1. When asked, most travellers, who are largely from a lower-income working class, say they would have no means of income during the lockdown. And, without regular earnings, they would not be able to live in Dhaka for long. So, the only option is to return home.
Homebound passengers have crowded the ferries since Friday, after the government announced the coming lockdown and law enforcers are struggling to manage the huge crowd.
“People are not listening to us at all. If we force them off the vehicles, they just walk to the pier and wait hours for a ferry. The moment a ferry docks, they rush in,” said Inspector Md Sirajul Kabir, chief of Mawa River Police Outpost.
Police have set up at least three check-posts at the Sirajdikhan, Srinagar and Hilsha intersections in Shimulia to prevent the stream of people towards the ferry port, said Sirajul Kabir.
Public transport is prevented from crossing the checkpoints, but private vehicles are allowed. Trucks, covered vans, goods carriers and ambulances are allowed to pass as well.
“Passengers are travelling towards the port in freight carriers. We force them to get off the vehicles. But we can’t control those who avoid the highway and take the local roads on Mishuk autorickshaws or covered vans.”
Though the authorities have suspended passenger buses, trains and launches, it has allowed the ferries to operate in the Shimulia Banglabazar route to ensure emergency services and goods carriers are able to cross the river.
The passengers waiting at the pier, however, are occupying the ferries even before the vehicles can board.
“Now our main task is to help the passengers waiting at the pier to cross the river,” said Inspector Sirajul Islam.
There are three types of ferries on the 11km river route, said officials of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC).
The largest type can carry 25 to 30 vehicles at a time or can accommodate up to 4,000 people.
“These ferries were operating to ensure the emergency services could continue. But now the passengers have taken over. We are compelled to operate 15 of the 16 ferries in the route but are failing to meet the demand,” said BIWTC Shimulia Pier Manager Ahammad Ali.
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