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Dhaka

Losing Its Charms Gradually

Losing Its Charms Gradually
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12th-Sep-2020       
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Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
Dhaka was a city with its population about a million only in 1970s. Now the population of the city is more than 2 cores --- 20 times more than that of 70's decade. Meanwhile, Dhaka city has expanded its area and has turned to a metropolitan city. At present, it is being administered by two city corporations. It has become a mega city now. Besides being a densely populated city, Dhaka has many other problems also. The traffic jam is the worst of all problems. How Dhaka city will be livable by its 2 cores of population? Do all demands fulfill people's aspirations? Do all plans succeed by proper execution and implementation? To many of us, Dhaka city is the heart and soul of life. We have enjoyed charms and images from our boyhood and infancy. Since 1975, I have been living in Dhaka city. How was the condition of Dhaka city in the decade of 70's? And how was it in the 60's or before? How it is running in the present decade! Everything appears to us magically and miraculously with the changed perspective of Dhaka as a capital city.
Dhaka might be the second worst city in the world to live in, but once it had glorious history. This four hundred-year-old city once boasted beautiful Nawab palaces, lush gardens, Mughal mosques, ancient temples and more. Dhaka, during the Mughal and British eras, was a prime example of urban settlement of the respective periods. Communities and diasporas as like the Armenians, English, Portuguese and of course the native Bengalis, all settled here and made their own share of contributions to the growth of a great city. The Dhaka I saw in the sixties was a small or large medium sized provincial city. Roads were narrow, cars and horses were scarce. The huge building was just a handful; it goes without saying that there was no tall building. The nine-story co-operative building and Hotel InterContinental were probably the tallest buildings. Being a small city, we had big friends everywhere. We used to travel around Dhaka by rickshaw. Sadar Ghat, Patuatuli, Bakshi Bazar, Nawabpur, Victoria Park, Wari, Tikatuli, Nazimuddin Road, Paltan, Motijheel, Malibagh, Shantinagar, Kakrail, Dhanmondi, Azimpur, Tejgaon, Eskaton were all in one hand. Wherever we went, it seemed like we were in our own place, going back in a little while.
Dhaka was once well-shaded. There was no shortage of small playgrounds and open spaces. We used to see water bodies here and there, but we didn't pay much attention to water bodies as it was not scarce. The river meant the Buriganga, Balu, Turag, Shitalakshya were not well known. At that time it was an easy and normal thing to go to Buriganga by rickshaw. There was no shortage of beels, lakes and wetlands. The people of the city did not bother much about what would happen if Dhaka grew, what would be the advantages and disadvantages. The discussion did not go unnoticed. The simple city dwellers in the bond of close kinship with nature created an impeccable lifestyle which was lively, rhythmic and heartwarming. Despite the dangers and conflicts, it did not bother the lives of the people. In a word, Dhaka was a small, beautiful livable city.
Our expectations, our beliefs are completely defeated today. There is no reason not to be alarmed by what I have seen over the last few years, what I have learned, and what I have read in the papers in recent times. A very dangerous situation is about to engulf this city and its citizens. This condition was not caused by any natural disaster or natural calamity. Unfortunately, because of greed, selfishness, ignorance and incompetence, we have brought this danger upon ourselves. Despite being so close to the imminent danger, not even the slightest hint of the necessary change of mind and mentality that is required to overcome this danger is being observed.
Since independence, the greedy eyes of the influential people of the society have been on the houses and properties of Dhaka city. Since the eighties, this vision has been focused directly on the land of the metropolis and surrounding areas. Canals, beels and reservoirs are also added to the land. Under the patronage of the administrative machineries and the controlling authority, the usurper groups and the occupiers began to occupy the vacant lands, playgrounds, canals and ponds of the city. In the original plan of Gulshan-Banani, the vacancies in different blocks were allocated in the name of individuals. Huge buildings have been erected in places where children and teenagers used to play and adults used to walk. The roughness of bricks and stones has taken away the smiles of children and teenagers. Many of the elderly have given up walking or afternoon travel. There are buildings and buildings all around. Somewhere or new construction has started. What was once an open space is now literally a concrete jungle?
It is now almost certain that temperatures in many parts of the city have risen abnormally. It goes without saying that there is no reservoir suitable for drainage. High-rise buildings, overcrowded roads, inadequate roads, overflowing embankments, mills, air conditioners scattering heat irresistibly, the amount of a forestation is much less than required. Dhaka has been ranked as the second worst city in the world in the world class survey. According to many newspaper reporters and analysts, Dhaka is now uninhabitable. The whole city seems to be drowning under the pressure of people. The question is whether it will be possible to get rid of the status quo. Because many people think that it will not be possible for any government to do the kind of reforms, changes and breakthrough that are needed for salvation. It may be easier to build a new capital city near present-day Dhaka. But will Dhaka finally be abandoned as a ruined city?

(Dr. Forqan is former DDG of Bangladesh Ansar & VDP)

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