Given the scarcity of open space in Dhaka city, the sprawling Shyamoli Club Playground is a blessing for the local residents. But unfortunately it has suffered the same fate as several other parks and fields of the capital -- a kitchen market was built on a portion of its land.
Initially the government built a small concrete outlet in the north-eastern corner but later some influential people with the help of local ward councillor Habibur Rahman Mizan grabbed a huge space behind the outlet and built a complete kitchen market there.
Local inhabitants said huge money was involved in operation of the market.
Syed Mohammad Shamsul Kaunain, president of Shyamoli Club, which has been maintaining it over the last five decades, said the last caretaker government built an outlet there for the erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles (BDR)-led Operation Dal-Bhat, a programme to sell essentials at reasonable prices.
In 2009, when the Awami League government took over, the club bought the concrete structure from BDR and planned to set up a gymnasium there, he said.
However, BDR took it back from the club later by returning the money, he added.
In 2011, the Department of Cooperatives gave the outlet to Kingshuk Multipurpose Cooperative Society, which is running it as Somobai Bazar, said the outlet in-charge, Golam Kibria.
He said the idea of Somobai Bazar, introduced by the government, was producers would sell their produce directly to consumers without any middleman coming between them.
The Shyamoli Club president said a few shops grew behind the concrete outlet during the term of the caretaker government, but now the figure was 140.
After the city corporation election in April, one Yasin and his men, backed by councillor Mizan, are trying to give the market a permanent shape by building concrete structures, he said.
Yasin collects rents from the shops on behalf of those people, he added.
The 2.23 acres, or 5.56 bighas, Shyamoli Club Playground is owned by the National Housing Authority, but the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) is its custodian now.
Currently the illegal tin-roof market is seen between Somobai Bazar and Shyamoli Shahi Masjid.
The club president said the city corporation built a wall around the field in 2011, and the kitchen market was still inside the boundary.
Shamsul Kaunain also said they planned to build "Shyamoli Complex" with indoor game facilities and a gymnasium for players and local residents on the grabbed land but it did not happen due to the continuous illegal occupation.
Councillor Mizan denied involvement with the kitchen market operation.
When asked, he said it was not possible for him alone to remove the illegal structures; it needed a collective effort.
He said the club itself built a club building too. "All illegal structures must be demolished."
The councillor said he was putting pressure on the authorities concerned and police to remove the illegal structures from Dhaka city's fields, roads and footpaths.
Yasin, however, said the market was being run by poor people.
Some 400 poor men operate 140 shops without paying rent, he said.
He also claimed that local residents wanted the kitchen market at the place.
The Daily Star talked to several locals, and no-one chose a market over open space.
The kitchen market should be removed because it is destroying the environment, said Selina Begum of Adabor, who regularly strolls around the playground.
She said at least 50 people walked there at a time every Friday morning.
Chief Executive Officer of DNCC BM Enamul Haque said they would recover the space.
He said NHA owned the land but DNCC was its custodian.
Several hundred children play in Shyamoli Club Playground, and there is also a cricket academy under which around 100 cricketers practice there every day.
Iftekhar Hossain, joint secretary of Shyamoli Club, said the playground produced national players like footballer Sabbir and cricketers Gazi Ashraf Hossain Lipu and GS Hasan Tamim.