In absence of proper testing of imported bitumen, low-quality bitumen is entering the country and consequently being used in road construction.
It has been learnt that imported bitumen is entering the country without any certification and approval from Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).Bangladesh is mostly dependent on imported bitumen. The country imports 80 per cent of its total bitumen demand while state-owned Eastern Refinery produces the rest 20 per cent.
The entire volume of imported bitumen enters the country just only based on the import orders through the Customs.
Experts said products like bitumen should be checked and validated while entering the country to ensure the quality and durability of roads.
“Assessment of bitumen by local testing organizations and lab can help ensure the quality of the imported bitumen,” they said, adding that the government should have clear directives in this regard.
As bitumen is freely entering the country without quality test, importers also do not have to face any test in importing bitumen.
Owing to this fact, low-quality bitumen is being used in road construction, and as a result, roads get dilapidated very soon.Dr Shamsul Hoque, a public transport expert and professor at the Department of Civil Engineering at BUET, told the Daily Sun that as the loads on roads are getting heavier, quality bitumen should be used in constructing roads.
Referring to the reasons behind the dilapidated roads across the country, Dr Shamsul Hoque observed that the use of low-quality bitumen affects the durability of roads.
Talking about the import and use of low graded bitumen, road safety expert Ilias Kanchan, also the founder and chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, said quality bitumen is not being used in line with the country’s weather.
“To ensure the sustainability of roads, quality bitumen should be used alongside the proper drainage system,” he added.
Citing the example of England’s bitumen-coated roads, Kanchan suggests using quality bitumen with applicable techniques.
Bitumen is a binding organic material made from the by-products of refined crude oil. It is widely used in road construction because it is easy to produce, reusable, non-toxic, and a strong binder. Sources at Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) said Bangladesh has a demand of around five lakh tonnes of bitumen annually. Of the total demand, ERL supplies 70,000 tonnes and the rest is imported from Middle East countries.
According to the Roads and Highways Department, Bangladesh uses two types of bitumen. The 60/70 grade is better for ensuring sustainable road development.
The 80/100-grade bitumen is more liquid than the 60/70 grade bitumen. During the rainy season, the 80/100-grade bitumen does not sustain and roads get dilapidated sooner.
In an investigation, it was found that low-quality bitumen produced from half bitumen and half turpentine (turpin) has flooded the market. An unholy syndicate controls the adulterate bitumen market.
Visiting several areas, it was seen that many roads across the country are in a dire situation. Some 60-70 per cent of the roads got dilapidated within one year of construction due to the use of low-quality bitumen.
Blaming lack of monitoring on the imported bitumen, sector insiders said approval or test by government organization and private laboratory after unloading bitumen from ports is a must to ensure quality. The Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges had issued a directive on the use of good quality, especially 60/70 grade bitumen for constructing roads across the country.
Despite the directives, the importers are not paying attention to the quality standards for bitumen, causing a waste of government money.