Khatunganj and surrounding areas are submerged due to the inflow of tidal water from the Karnaphuli river through Chaktai canal even in light rains every year
Bacha Mia Saudagar Traders, a spice wholesaler company in Chattogram, is 250 feet away from Chaktai canal.
This business entity, which is submerged in tidal water even after a little rain, faced a loss worth Tk1 lakh in 2019 after water entered its warehouse. Therefore, a retaining wall was constructed in front of this business centre before this monsoon to protect it from the tide.
Not only Bacha Mia Saudagar Traders but most of the 4,000 businesses in Khatunganj, the country's largest wholesale market of consumer goods, are submerged in tidal waters every year.
Water enters the warehouses and damages goods worth several crores of taka. Traders say losses caused by waterlogging are much higher than any other losses.
Mohammad Idris, owner of Bacha Mia Saudagar Traders, said waterlogging has been occurring in Chaktai-Khatunganj since 2008.
"The water level is increasing every year. The goods of the traders are wasted when the tidal water enters the yard and warehouses but no effective initiative has been taken by the government. Water is entering again this season and traders have already started calculating the losses," he said.
According to experts, the main reason behind waterlogging in Khatunganj is the tide of the Karnaphuli River. Every year, the surrounding areas including Khatunganj are submerged due to the inflow of tidal water from the Karnaphuli river through Chaktai canal even in light rains.
Although work has started on digging and a retaining wall at the mouth of Chaktai canal to alleviate waterlogging, it is still at an early stage. That is why waterlogging is happening in Khatunganj even at low tide.
The Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) is digging the Chaktai canal, constructing retaining walls on both sides and sluice gates at the mouth under two projects.
Among these, canal dredging, retaining walls on both sides under waterlogging solution project, and sluice gate at the mouth of the canal under ring road construction project from Kalurghat to Chaktai are being constructed.
However, the constructing of the retaining wall of the canal, the excavation and sluice gate has not progressed as expected.
CDA Chief Engineer Kazi Hassan Bin Shams said the work of base casting of the sluice gate at the mouth of Chaktai canal has been completed. There is still more than half of the work left. We planned to finish the construction work before the rains but could not because of Covid-19. So, the tide cannot be stopped again.
Chaktai canal dredging, retaining wall construction is being done by the 34 Engineering Corps of the Bangladesh Army, which is in charge of the physical work of the waterlogging project.
Project Director Lieutenant Colonel Shah Ali told The Business Standard that a 5.8-kilometre retaining wall would be built on both sides of the Chaktai canal and the entire canal would be excavated.
However, only 60 metres of retaining wall has been completed. Canal excavation has not started. So, it is not expected to get rid of waterlogging this year.
According to city planners, Chaktai is the main canal for the flow of water, though there are 57 canals in the city. The water of the city goes to the River Karnaphuli through this canal but many places along the canal have been occupied, making it narrower. Due to the narrowness of the canal, water is not flowing properly.
On the other hand, there is no sluice gate in the canal to stop the tide. So, tidal water is easily entering the nearby areas.
Engineer Delwar Hossain Majumder, former president of the Institution of Engineers Bangladesh Chittagong Centre, said Khatunganj is drowning every year due to the absence of a sluice gate.
The CDA has built the flyover in an unplanned way at the cost of thousands of crores of taka. However, the company is delaying the construction of a sluice gate with little money, he added.
He further said once the construction of the sluice gate is completed, the tidal water can be stopped, but various equipment including pumps have to be installed at the mouth of the gate to discharge the water inside the city into the river, which has to be brought from abroad.
However, the CDA has not yet started purchasing equipment. So Chaktai-Khatunganj is not getting relief from waterlogging soon.
Syed Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, said there are about 4,000 small and large businesses in Chaktai-Khatunganj. No one is coming forward to save Khatunganj even though waterlogging has been occurring for a century.
The CDA did not make an urgent request to build a gate at the mouth of the canal. Products are being wasted due to water entering the business establishments at low tide. Trading is stopped due to waterlogging, he added.
Work on a mega project worth Tk5,618.49 crore started in 2016 to solve the long-standing problem of waterlogging in Chattogram. The project tenure expired in June but only 25-30 percent work has been completed. Therefore, the CDA has applied for extending the duration of the project for two more years and raising the cost from Tk5,616 to Tk11,000 crore.
On the other hand, under the Ring Road project from Kalurghat to Chaktai, 12 sluice gates were supposed to be constructed but work of only seven has started.
CDA Chief Engineer Kazi Hassan bin Shams said, "We can't work even if we want to because the government is not giving money. Many contractors are already in arrears. We can't work fast even if we want to."