Just when Dhaka city residents thought they had seen the worst that traffic congestion had to offer, yesterday’s tailback took commuter woes to the next level.
Commuters were compelled sit idly in the streets for hours yesterday, often with engines turned off, as the paralysis of the roadways doubled and even trebled travel times.
But the jams were not caused this time by rain, flooding, road construction, VIP motorcades or wayward driving.
Dhaka was paralysed yesterday by private university students who had occupied the streets as part of a demonstration against the 7.5% VAT being slapped on private university tuition fees.
Private university students came out in numbers yesterday and blocked at least six key intersections of the city, demanding that the VAT on private university education be withdrawn.
The sit-in crippled transportation in Shyamoli, Dhanmondi, Uttara, Mirpur, Badda, Bashundhara residential area, Banani and Uttara.
DMP Deputy Commissioner (Traffic-West) Imtiaz Ahmed said Mirpur Road was blocked from 10am to around 9:10pm. He said there were no alternative routes because all of the main thoroughfares and intersections were blocked by the students.
Hundreds of vehicles were stuck for hours in the sweltering heat.
Travellers arriving in Dhaka and patients in need of hospitalisation suffered grievously yesterday.
“I was on my way from Farmgate to attend an official meeting in Uttara, but it has already been two hours. I do not know when I will get there,” said Ahmed Imtiaj, who was sitting in a CNG-run auto-rickshaw in Banani around 2:30pm.
This correspondent witnessed a massive traffic jam from Trust Auditorium in Mohakhali that ground everything to standstill up to Chairman Bari in Banani, as students of the American University of Bangladesh and Southeast University blocked the intersection.
The students were chanting slogans demanding that the VAT on education be repealed.
Students of Shanto-Mariam University of Creative Technology, International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT) and Uttara University gathered at the House Building crossing in Uttara, creating a severe gridlock.
Passengers, many of them outbound air travellers and commuters headed towards the airport, suffered most in the uncertain traffic.
It took over six hours for expatriate Kamruzzaman, who arrived in Dhaka from Kuwait, to reach Dhanmondi from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
“I do not know how I will get to my house on Dhanmondi Road 15 with these three suitcases. The auto-rickshaw driver left me on the corner of Dhanmondi Road 27,” he told this correspondent, standing helplessly on the street.
Students of Stamford University demonstrated on Satmasjid Road in Dhanmondi while Daffodil International University students blocked Mirpur Road, creating severe gridlock that boxed in the entire neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, BRAC University students demonstrated in the Mohakhali-Gulshan area, North South University and Independent University students blocked Baridhara, East West University students blocked Rampura.
“I have to go to United Hospital in Gulshan to visit my brother before his surgery. But no CNG-run auto-rickshaw is willing to go. It is not possible for me to go, I think, because all of the buses are packed,” said Monowara Akhter in Shahbagh. “All the roads are packed and I do not know what to do.”
Traffic police were seen standing in the streets, but they had little to do but stand by and look at the tailbacks.
Police officials were seen requesting car passengers not to enter congested areas due to the traffic jams.
Joint Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Traffic) Banoj Kumar Majumder said: “City transport was nearly paralysed and no movement could be made until 6pm.”
After the private university students called off their demonstration in Mohakhali, the situation began to normalise in the city’s south.