In the rainy season, businesses in Khatunganj incur huge losses as the area becomes badly waterlogged
Traders in the country's premium business hub in Chattogram's Khatunganj are forced to relocate elsewhere as they have been facing huge losses due to multifaceted infrastructural problems.
From traffic congestion, poor drainage system, inadequate infrastructure development, a truck terminal to lack of trust among traders – all evenly played a part in battering the businesses at the commodity markets in Chattogram.
Businesspeople at the country's three largest wholesale markets – Chaktai, Khatunganj and Asadganj – in the port city have been reeling from recurring losses for a long time.
The leading companies including PHP Group, Abul Khair Group, MEB Group, Nurjahan Group and Mostafa Group once led the country's commodity goods export-import business. They all started their businesses on the banks of the Chaktai canal and the Karnaphuli River in Chattogram city. However, they have already shifted their corporate offices from the country's largest wholesale market while many others are planning to shift as well.
Many say they are shifting their business to Phartali, Bahadarhat, Alankar, Agrabad, Khulshi, and EPZ areas, to curb their obvious loss.
Many areas of Khatungonj become inundated every day, with water entering the ground floor of shops and warehouses in the area.
In the rainy season, businesses here incur huge losses as the area becomes badly waterlogged during rain that can last for days. According to the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association (KTIA), the usual daily transaction comes down from Tk2,000 crore to around Tk1,000 or Tk500 crore during the rainy season because buyers cannot come to the waterlogged area.
In 2018, businessmen in Khatungonj faced extensive losses amounting to over Tk500 crore as water entered many warehouses and damaged many goods, said KTIA.
"The businessmen who sell perishable items incur a far greater loss than others because their goods rot quickly in the water. To save goods from tidal surges and rainwater, most of the businesses houses have built two to three feet high walls to keep out the water, but during the full moon and new moon nothing can prevent the water from entering the houses," said Ahsan Ullah Zahedy, former general secretary, Chaktai-Khatungonj Warehouses Samiti.
"We have approached the city mayor, the chairman of the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) and the commerce ministry, but no one pays any heed to our pleas for saving Khatungonj," added Zahedy.
When contacted, City Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin told The Business Standard, "The CDA is implementing a mega project to solve the waterlogging problem. Only they can say when people will get the benefit of the project, and how they will get rid of the water."
During a visit to the country's largest wholesale market, this correspondent found that rainwater cannot drain out of Khatungonj because the drains are very narrow – less than a foot wide. Moreover, the drains are clogged with garbage, including bottles and plastic material.
Though this commodity hub houses some 3,000 businesses and more than 5,000 warehouses, it has no truck terminal or any specific point for loading and unloading goods. So trucks have to park on the roads, creating bottlenecks which cause huge gridlock. Vehicles can be stuck in the area for six to seven hours because of the gridlock.
The road leading to Khatungonj is very narrow – only 20ft wide – making it difficult for two trucks to pass each other. Moreover, since there are no pavements, people have to walk on the streets, which further aggravates the traffic jams. Despite the fact that thousands of workers, truck drivers and buyers come to the area every day, there is no public toilet for them to use.
The leading companies that still do business in Khatungonj are S Alam Group, TK Group, NGS Shah and BSM Group. They also say that the recent waterlogging problem has made their business very vulnerable.
When contacted, Abul Bashar, the managing director of BSM Group told The Business Standard, "Khatungongj has not developed with time. The area has not changed in 50-60 years. The entrance to Khatungonj is too narrow for vehicles to pass. It is imperative to save Khatungonj if the businesses of Chattogram are to be saved."
"Infrastructure development, managing traffic, addressing the waterlogging problem and enlarging its entrance are essential to saving Khatungonj," he added.
He also noted that the lack of trust and the impunity with which people commit fraud are responsible for the deterioration of this leading commodity market.
"So far over 100 businessmen have left the business after conning other traders out of crores of taka, but there has been no exemplary punishment."
"The lack of trust has become a major problem for businesses here. Had the fraudsters been brought to justice quickly, the trust would have returned. There is a law, but the delay in implementing it causes more losses for businessmen," he added.
The president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), who is also a Khatungonj based merchant, alleged that the apathy of the government is responsible for destroying this business hub.
"The CDA and CCC have a responsibility to solve the problem of the country's largest commodity hub. So far they have not come up with a pragmatic plan to solve our problems. Waterlogging is increasing day by day. They have not widened the roads. It is high time we save Khatungonj, Chaktai Khal, and the Karnaphuli River," added the CCCI president.
Professor Dr Muhammad Sekandar Khan, an economist and vice-chancellor of East Delta University told The Business Standard, "Khatungonj has developed its business but its infrastructure has not developed. So it has lost its past glory. The people responsible for building roads and addressing waterlogging issues should be held accountable for their failure."
Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) spent Tk345.5 crore in the last 16 years in trying to solve the waterlogging problem in the port city. The CDA spent Tk575 crore in the last two years in implementing another mega project to try to solve this perennial problem. However, the problem of waterlogging has remained the same.
The Chakati Khal (canal) is almost dead because of illegal encroachment, siltation and garbage dumping. A total of 102 illegal encroachers were identified on the canal in 2015, but they have still not been ousted.
"Why are they working in such an unplanned way? Why do people not get any benefit from their work? These people should be more responsible. They should not be allowed to destroy the country's largest commodity market gradually," said Professor Sekandar.
Ahmed Moinuddin, project director of the CDA to solve waterlogging in the city told The Business Standard, "We will oust all the illegal establishments. I have ousted many establishments in the meantime. We hope, after the implementation of the project, the residents and the businessmen of the city will get the benefit of the project."