The Mawa launch terminal will be rendered useless and eventually forced to shut down in the absence of passengers once the Padma Bridge opens to traffic connecting Dhaka with southern districts, vessel operators and workers say.

While bus owners expect a boost in business after the bridge's June 25 opening, launch and speed boat operators at Shimulia (Mawa) Ghat helplessly scramble for alternative livelihood options.

They fear that direct road communication between Dhaka and 17 southern districts over the Padma Bridge will hit the traditional and popular water vessel business.

And their fear seems well founded.

Many launch and speedboat passengers at Mawa Ghat told the UNB correspondents that once the bridge opens, they will opt for direct and comfortable road communication instead of lengthy and risky travel through the murky waterways.

"Since there was no bridge over the river, we had no choice but to travel by launches braving many hassles and wasting many hours. So, when the bridge will be opened to traffic, we won't use the launch service anymore," Abul Kalam, a private bank employee told UNB.

Kalam, who was going to Madaripur by a launch from Mawa Ghat, said he now needs to change the modes of vehicle thrice to go to his village from Dhaka's Jatrabari area. "It's also a time-consuming journey. But we'll be able to go to our home and return to Dhaka by direct bus services within a short time without any hassles when the bridge will be opened."

Walton Group employee Pritish Chandra Bala along with his wife Chaitali was crossing the Padma River by another launch to go to their village home in Gopalganj.

"We often go to our village home from Dhaka's Motijhlle area. "We first come to the Mawa Ghat and then cross the river by a launch to catch a bus from the other side of the river to go home. We experience the same troubles while returning to Dhaka. We'll get luxury and direct bus services on Dhaka-Gopalganj route after a few days. "Why should we then use the launch? I think launch service will lose its usefulness after a few days," said Chaitali.

She also said bus services are much safer and quicker and smoother than the lunch journey.

A speed boat passenger Mujahidul Islam said he uses the vessel to cross the river quickly to save time to go to his Shariatpur home and return to Dhaka. "When the bridge will be inaugurated, we will get rid of such hassles and risky journey,"

Talking to UNB, 20 more passengers also echoed Kalam, Chaitali and Mujahid.

According to operators, around 20,000-25,000 passengers use the water vessels to reach different destinations, including Shariatpur, Madaripur, Gopalganj and Khulna, from the capital Dhaka and vice versa through the ghat while the number of passengers increases by over five times during the two Eids and other festivals.

Talking to UNB, Iqbal Hossain Khan, Senior Vice President, Shimulia-Kanthalbari unit Launch Owners' Association, said it is a matter of joy that the long-cherished Padma Bridge will be opened to traffic. "But we'll now be forced to stop operation of our 87 launches on Shariatpur and Madaripur routes via Mawa Ghat due to the shortage of passengers."

Besides, he said many bus passengers have long been crossing the Padma River from both sides by launches. "We'll no longer get those passengers after June 25."

Sating that each of the 87 launches has two-three owners and 7-8 staff members, Iqbal said, "We all will now lose our source of income as our vessel operation will have to be stopped. We're wondering what to do with our families and where to go."

He said they, on behalf of the Launch Owners' Association, submitted applications to the Prime Minister's Office and the Road Transport and Bridges and Shipping Ministries seeking the government's move to rehabilitate them. "But no step is visible in this regard."

Iqbal said the government can find out other suitable river routes so that these launches can be operated there. "The government can also give us alternative jobs or give us incentives to launch road transport services on this route. We want the government to at least provide us with compensation for the losses we're going to incur after the inauguration of the bridge."

He said the launch owners have an investment of over Tk100 crores in 87 launches. "We won't have other alternatives to selling these launches as scraps within months. Each launch has value over one crore taka, but when we'll sell it as scrap we won't get more than Tk 10-15 lakh."

Another launch owner Masud Khan said they are worried about the existence of their business. "We won't get too many passengers on the waterway once Padma Bridge is opened."

He said it will not possible for them to run the vessels on losses. "We want the government to provide us with an alternative way of doing business."

Speed boat owner Abdul Malek also fears that their business will sink for the want of passengers after the opening of the bridge.

"I bought a speed boat at Tk 10 lakh six months back taking loans from a bank. I am very worried about how I will repay the loan if I can't run the speed boat in the days to come," he said.

Habibur Rahman, in charge of the speed boat terminal, said around 5,000 commuters daily cross the river from both sides by 156 speed boats. "These passengers may not prefer to travel by speed boats when the bus services are available.

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