The Daily Star (DS): 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. As a mayor, what was your biggest challenge and obstacle this year?
Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh: The biggest challenge was that I had to take office during the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, dengue was also a challenge as June was the season of this mosquito-borne disease. So we had to be very careful and vigilant to eradicate mosquitoes and destroy its sources. We had to change the management system and had to initiate a new action plan. Due to our necessary efforts following the action plan, no person died of dengue this season in the DSCC area. We could keep the casualty level at a very minimum stage.
DS: What was the biggest success for you this year?
Taposh: I would say we have been able to make the Dhaka South City Corporation less corrupt. It feels good when I get feedback/response from people that they are getting services from the city corporation without facing any corruption. I received a phone call from a Bangladeshi living in the US. They have expressed their satisfaction that they obtained services from the DSCC without paying anything extra. They were very happy and overwhelmed. This is our biggest success as we were able to bring down corruption at the city corporation and ensured transparency, which was one of our election manifestos.
DS: At the end of 2020, what is the one thing you wish you would do differently, and why?
Taposh: I want civil works to be done in due time. We want to bring all the service providing agencies under one umbrella so that they can do their work in a coordinated way. That way, residents will get to avail services smoothly and fast. And, there will be no overlapping of works and no lapses; works will be done diligently and within the timeframe.
DS: We're sure you have many plans for 2021. Which one of them are you most excited of and why?
Taposh: We have many plans. Of those, we are not most excited but very concerned about how we can eradicate waterlogging from the city. Since we have been successful in recovering all the canals from Wasa, it could be a mammoth task for us to properly look after those.
This could be a crucial work for us to ensure that city people will not face waterlogging. It is a huge task. We are preparing our action plan on both short and long term basis. In short term programmes, we will remove all the wastes from the canals and lakes so that water can be removed easily. We will also clean up the box culverts, which had not been cleaned for a long time. Hopefully we will be able to prepare our action plans and we are hopeful that we will be able to provide better services than before. Under the plan, we will prepare a master plan to eradicate the waterlogging problem from Dhaka completely.
DS: What can citizens expect from the mayor's office in the next year?
Taposh: Less corruption and good governance, more online and digital applications -- so that citizens can get services smoothly and without any sort of harassment. Bus route rationalisation (bringing all public buses under a fixed number of companies and bringing public transports under discipline) is also an important task, which will be visible in 2021.
The Daily Star (DS): You have undertaken multiple development projects like installing buttons for pedestrian crossing, and constructing U-loops and foot-bridges, but urban planners and transport experts have criticised some of the initiatives. Can you comment on how successful your endeavours have been?
Atiqul Islam: Comments, both positive and negative, about such work is expected. I welcome both the praise and criticism, as they help us learn.
Regarding the button system, all developing countries have it. This is a pilot project, and we have not installed buttons here and there. We focused on educational institutions, so the new generation can get familiar with the system. If the system works well for people, we will continue the project, but if they do not want it or abide by it, we will not.
About U-loops, they have already been proven to be successful. Earlier, it took 40-50 minutes to go from Abdullahpur to Tongi, but now, it takes 4-5 minutes. The U-loops were constructed after consulting with experts, and this was late DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq's plan. But during construction, there were obstructions due to the elevated expressway. But the problems were resolved, and we now have four U-loops left to construct out of 10. Once we open all of them, people will enjoy the benefits.
As for foot-bridges, students demanded them after Abrar died in a tragic road accident. The incident occurred only nine days after I assumed office.
I think we need to move to the underpass system instead of foot-bridges for the city's beatification. Unfortunately, that requires more space, and we all know that Dhaka is an unplanned city. Yet, if there is space, we will construct underpasses.
Also, I would like to inform everyone that we are going to install 16 foot-bridges with escalators, so everyone, especially people with disability, can use them.
DS: When will residents of new wards start seeing development under the mega project?
Atiqul: Ecnec has approved the Tk 4,200 crore plan to develop new wards, which were neglected for years. Most of the money will be used for land requisition. The narrow roads will be widened and will consist of four lanes. Also, the money will be used for managing canals. Covid-19 has slowed us down, but we will soon start working. We do not want future generations to suffer due to such issues.
DS: What were your biggest successes and failures this year?
Atiqul: Among the successes, I would say that during the pandemic, all of us (DNCC officials) worked in the field; we had little time to spend at home. In March, April, May and June, many lost their jobs, but we have been able to help them.
I personally have been able to help 76,000 families under the platform "Sobai Mile Sobar Dhaka". During the dengue outbreak, our DNCC officials worked hard and were able to overcome the crisis together, which we consider as our success.
An issue that worries me is whenever we try to evict illegal occupants, like hawkers on footpaths, from the streets, it becomes occupied again. We still cannot do anything about it.
However, we were able to remove and fine building developers, which would illegally cover footpaths with cement, rods and bricks. We auctioned off the materials left by them. I think this is one of our successes as well. This initiative will continue, and I will not allow any sort of illegal encroachment.
DS: What is the one thing you wish you could have done differently this year and why?
Atiqul: This year, I took charge of DNCC on May 13. Meanwhile, we had to go through a pandemic, which is still here. I wanted to open at least six parks this year, but we were able to open only one.
Now, I will give my best and execute my responsibilities properly during my term as mayor. Therefore, I seek assistance and support from the city's people. This city belongs to all. On the eve of 2021, I would like to call upon all citizens to love and care for our city and country like our own homes.