One less park for Old Dhaka

One less park for Old Dhaka

Did you know that less than 0. 30 percent of land in all of Dhaka city is used for recreational purposes? This is according to the Regional Development Planning (RDP) survey. For those of us living in the ever-growing concrete jungle that we call home, the abysmal allocation of land for leisure activities will not come as a surprise.

An investigation conducted by The Daily Star in 2016 revealed that at least 10 of the 54 surviving parks in the entire Dhaka city had been replaced with community centres, kitchen markets, mosques, rickshaw garages or truck parking lots—that too, mostly by the city corporation(s) itself. Currently, Dhaka has 0. 7 acres of open place for every 1000 residents—the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan states that the optimal allocation is 0. 6 acres of open land for every 1000 people.

The latest park under threat is the Nababganj Park, located at Ward-23 of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). The park already houses two infrastructure—a one-storey building that is used to provide medical services, and another two-storey structure that serves as a gymnastic centre, library, community centre and the ward commissioner's office. Earlier this year, the DSCC labelled these two buildings as “risky” and forbade people from using them. ile the community might have appreciated the city corporation's effort to renovate the unsafe structures, the announcement that a multi-storied building would be established replacing the park, angered locals and environmentalists.

And why not? The stark reality is that Nababganj Park has been serving as the only source of recreation for more than five lakh residents of Ward-23. There are no parks in Wards 24, 25 or 26 either—though there should be at least one park for each, as per the experts' suggestions.

Urban planner and the former chairman of University Grant Commission, Professor Nazrul Islam, highlights that every urban and regional plan must ensure adequate open spaces (depending on the size of the population). For example, the current Dhaka Structure Plan proposes 1. 5 acres of open space for every 12,500 of the population. This means that for a population of 26 million, we need at least 22,360 acres—constituting six percent of the total area of the capital.

Once a plan is made and a park is built, the municipality cannot make changes arbitrarily. If there really is a necessity, the whole urban structure plan needs to be changed accordingly, but with the direct participation of the public,” informs Islam.

What's an open space that's not… open?

Upon visit, a corner of the Nababganj Park was found “reserved” for WASA's pumping station in violation of the law. cording to a law passed in 2000 (lengthily titled: Mega city, Divisional Town and District Town's municipal areas including country's all the municipal areas' playground, open space, park and natural water reservoir Conservation Act, 2000), “playfields, open spaces, parks and natural water bodies which are marked cannot be used another way, it cannot be rented, leased or cannot be handover any other use.

If a service organisation, including the City Corporation, needs to build an infrastructure in a public property, it needs to purchase the land at the market price, informs Mohammed Salim, assistant secretary of an Old Dhaka wing of the environmental organisation Poribesh Bachao Andolon. When we asked them, they couldn't give us any satisfactory answer. It is unfortunate that the regulatory bodies themselves are violating basic provisions,” he says.

The authorities claim that the multi-storeyed building—which will continue to house the commissioner's office and community centre—will provide much-needed amenities to the public. wever, many locals as well as environmentalists feel that replacing an open space with a concrete building will do more harm than good.

Yes, community facilities are equally important, but you cannot create a new problem while solving another,” argues Iqbal Habib, architect and Member Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon.

Some local residents also raise questions about the decision to mark the existing community centre—which was inaugurated in 1999—as risky. as it only done as an excuse to be able to do construction work in the park?

We have another community centre near the park, which was built five years before this one. They could've demolished that and rebuilt it as the multi-storied building they are planning for community services. Why choose the structure in the park? asks a local resident, Rafiqul Islam.

Ratul Ahmed, another local resident, is concerned about the environmental aspect. If a community centre is built here, they must arrange food for large parties, and people will use the remaining open space to park their cars. People go to parks to enjoy the nature—how is that going to happen then? says Ahmed.

Besides, we are hearing that the Sadarghat-Gabtali road which runs along a side of the park is going to be expanded to accommodate four lanes. If this happens, the size of the park will be reduced any way, so why take up space for a building? he adds.

Not all locals, however, oppose the move. Some believe that the addition of new facilities—as promised by the authorities—would add to the development of the community.

When contacted, Mohammed Humayun Kabir, Commissioner for Ward-23 informs that the multipurpose building will serve the needs of the community, with separate arrangements for sports for children and the elderly. When asked about the environmental aspects of replacing the park with a building, Kabir argues, “You cannot compare this park with the Suhrawardy Udyan or Ramna Park. We are going to implement the new project so that they can use it as a place to mingle with others.

When asked about the commissioner's office, he admits that it might be there. And we give the land to WASA, considering the necessity of local people”. We were unable to manage a place for the pumping station,” he adds.

According to Advocate and Policy Analyst Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, the way the smaller-sized open spaces are in danger of encroachment is a matter of great concern. In fact, the situation is so bad that in 2014, the High Court ordered the DCs to protect all the canals, playgrounds and parks of the country from illegal encroachment. But no significant changes have taken place in this regard,” he says.

The future of the Nababganj Park is easily foreseeable, if we look at some other old Dhaka parks that are almost disappearing in the name of development, like Narinda, Jatrabari or Bakshibazar Park. Having access to green spaces is a matter of equality—and it seems as if old Dhaka is getting the short end of the stick.

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ALTERNATIVE IS THERE

ALTERNATIVE IS THERE

Although there is sufficient government land on both sides of Jessore Road, the local authorities seem to be hell-bent on expanding the historical road by felling more than 2,300 trees, several hundred of them nearly two centuries old.

And the justifications the Jessore Roads and Highways Department is offering for cutting these trees are nothing but “lame excuses”, experts and environmentalists have said, warning of an environmental disaster in the region.

On January 6, the RHD in Jessore made the decision to expand the highway to 10. 6 metres from 7. 3 metres now because of the increasing traffic on the road that connects the country's biggest land port in Benapole with India's Petrapole.

Currently, some 500 goods trucks as well as about 10,000 passengers to and from India use this route. The Benapole Port authorities collect about Tk 12 crore in customs duty every day, said port Director Aminul Islam.

Earlier in July last year, the government shelved a similar plan to fell 2,700 trees for widening the same highway following protests by the public and green activists amid media outcry.

The highway is widely known as a part of around 99km long Jessore Road stretching from Jessore in Bangladesh to Dum Dum in Kolkata.

The stretch on the Bangladesh side is 38km long and 24 feet wide, and on both the south and the north sides of the road there is government land that is at least 50 feet wide, according to the District Council that owns the land of the road.

So if they build a two-lane road along the existing one next to the trees, we can save these trees," said Amirul Alam Khan, an environmentalist from Jessore.

It is “outright foolish” to fell hundreds of trees, particularly those that bear memories of the Liberation War, just to widen the road by three meters, he added.

The RHD can easily construct a completely new road along the trees on either side of the road to facilitate the growing trade through the road between Bangladesh and India, said Aminul, also former chairman of Jessore Education Board.

The move to fell the trees sparked protests in Dhaka and elsewhere, with green activists asking the government not to take up any project without considering the ecological balance of the area and historic values of the trees.

In 1840, a Jessore landlord called Kali Poddar Babu took the initiative to build the road so that his mother could travel to take a bath in the Ganges river.

Later, as advised by his mother, a lot of saplings were planted on both sides of the road, then named Kali Poddar road, to make people's journeys pleasant ones, according to "Jessore-Khulnar Itihas" (History of Jessore and Khulna), written by Satish Chandra Mitra.

During the 1971 war, tens of thousands of Bangalees fled to India through this road. Freedom fighters and journalists from around the world also used this road to enter Bangladesh from India and the vice versa.

The name of the road has been immortalised by the American poet Allen Ginsberg, who visited the area in 1971 and wrote the famous poem, "September on Jessore Road" about the plight of millions of scared Bangladeshis heading towards India during the war. He recited the poem on November 20, 1971, at Saint George Church, New York.

At the January 6 meeting at the the Jessore District Commissioner's office, three local lawmakers, district administration officials, R&H officials and the district council chairman were present.

Jahangir Alam, executive engineer of Jessore RHD who was present at the meeting, said they sent a proposal to the roads and bridges ministry for the expansion and reconstruction of the road by felling the trees.

Asked why, he said, "The roots of the trees and the water dripping from the leaves during rain damage the road. So we decided to cut down around 2,300 trees along the road for the sake of development.

It will take at least one year just for the approval of a new project to build another road along the trees. But the existing road needs immediate repair and it cannot wait any longer.

Six firms took part in the tender for the Tk 329-crore project in November last, and the tenders were now being evaluated. The construction is likely to begin next month, he said.

Saifuzzaman Pikul, chairman of Jessore District Council, which has a long-standing dispute with the RHD over the ownership of assets along the road, said he too had no objection if trees needed to be felled for the “sake of development”.

As the trees are century old, sometimes their branches fall off, injuring people, he said, adding, "If the government orders us, we have nothing to do but to cut down the trees.

Dr Mohammad Mahfuzur Rahman, a professor of environmental science and technology at Jessore University of Science and Technology, said there was plenty of scope to build a road leaving the rain trees intact, but the authorities were not considering those options.

They want to cut down the trees," he said, sounding frustrated.

If there is a risk of branches falling, it can be stopped by forest management system, meaning by cutting off the dead or risky branches. And engineers should be able to build roads that will not be affected by the tree roots, he said.

The trees along the highway produce a huge shed, which is nearly one-fourth of that produced by the Sundarbans, he pointed out.

The 61-km stretch of the same road on the Indian side is also called Jessore Road. Running from Kolkata airport to Petrapole border via Barasat, this part too has numerous trees on its both sides.

Last year, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) felled 15 of those trees near Bongaon railway station for construction of some flyovers, triggering a huge public protest.

Green activists cited the example of the 2km stretch from Petrapole to Jayantipur on which the NHAI constructed a two-lane road keeping the trees in the middle.

The issue later went to the Calcutta High Court, which on April 17 last year ordered a stay on felling of the trees. The matter is still pending before the court where the next hearing is due today.

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ISRO released an image of a part of Indore with Holkar Cricket Stadium in the centre. The image was captured by the satellite on Monday. Cartosat-2 series is the primary satellite carried by PSLV-C40 on Jan 12

CHENNAI: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Tuesday released the first image captured by Cartosat-2 series satellite, four

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ED summons RJD chief Lalu Yadav’s son-in-law

Rahul has been asked by the ED to appear before the investigating officer of the case for questioning on Wednesday. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has sent summons to RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s son-in-law and SP member Rahul Yadav in connection with the money-laundering probe in the IRCTC tenders case.

Rahul has been asked by the ED to appear before the investigating officer of the case for questioning on Wednesday.

The case, based on a CBI FIR that names Lalu, his son Tejashwi and wife Rabri Devi, pertains to alleged favour given by Lalu as Railway Minister to a company in cornering tenders for maintenance of two IRCTC hotels. Lalu’s family allegedly received prime plots of land as quid pro quo.

loan of Rs 1 crore to Rabri Devi through her company Delight Marketing, which is embroiled in the case. sale.

We are probing who purchased this piece of land from Rahul’s family. to camouflage movement of money,” an ED official said.

Contacted by The Indian Express, Rahul refused to comment on the matter.

Rahul is the son of former SP MLC Jitendra Yadav and contested the last UP Assembly polls on an SP ticket from Bulandshahr. Educated in Switzerland, Rahul had been favoured by the SP over several senior leaders for the ticket, and then CM Akhilesh Yadav had even sought votes for him in rallies. Rahul is married to Lalu’s daughter Ragini.

The ED is already probing Lalu’s eldest son-in-law Shailesh Kumar in another case of money laundering.

company owned by Sarla Gupta, the wife of Prem Chand Gupta, a former Union minister. It is investigating the alleged “proceeds of crime” generated by the accused, purportedly through shell companies in this deal.

Others named in the CBI FIR include Vijay Kochhar, Vinay Kochhar (both directors of Sujata Hotels), Delight Marketing company, now known as Lara Projects, and the then IRCTC managing director P K Goel.

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