The "ideal town" planned in Purbachal to ease Dhaka's burden of overgrowing population is likely to become yet another extension of the unplanned capital, thanks to the long delay in implementation and constant changes in project design, according to urban planners.
They said the population within the project area and its surrounding places will nearly triple the initial projection by the time it is likely to be completed.
The Purbachal New Town project was initiated by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) in 1995 on around 6,227 acres of land in the south of Dhaka.
Located between Gazipur's Kaliganj and Narayanganj's Rupganj, with the Shitalakkhya river to the east and the Balu river to the west, it was designed to accommodate 10 lakh people in around 25,000 plots of various sizes.
However, it took the government 10 years to approve the Purbachal project -- its largest housing scheme -- at an initial cost of Tk 3,312 crore. With the initial deadline having elapsed in 2010, the cost has now more than tripled to a whopping Tk 10,329 crore with various other components added.
The project, which has seen five revisions to its design so far, is now expected to be completed by 2025, after several revisions of the deadline.
Although the initial plan was to only build a residential township, many commercial buildings have been included later on -- replacing playgrounds and other civic amenities.
The Purbachal New Town area will also be under pressure from the private housing sprouting around the project site.
During a recent visit, The Daily Star found former greenery has now turned grey in the project area with workers dismantling a newly-built road to make it wider.
Construction of 100-feet canals on both sides of the road were also going on simultaneously.
The boulevard, known as 300 feet, meanwhile, has become a popular hangout for Dhaka residents.
Md Ashraful Islam, project director of Detailed Area Plan of Rajuk, said as per the building construction rules-2008, which sets the highest number of buildings within a given area and how much empty space has to be kept, the population living inside the Purbachal project will be around 27 lakh.
Such a population is destined to create great pressure on services and facilities already constructed or under construction based on a design for 10 lakh people.
"Purbachal is destined to fail as a planned town due to long delays and accommodation of commercial and business zones in a residential-only hub without any proper assessment," said Adil Mohammad Khan, secretary general of Bangladesh Institute of Planners.
"Although it is called new town, Purbachal is developing as an unplanned extension of Dhaka city," he told The Daily Star.
Ujjwal Mallick, project director and chief engineer of Rajuk, said the project has so far seen 70 percent physical progress and 65 percent financial progress.
"We are expecting to complete the whole project by 2025," he said.
Since the development work of the project started in 2002-03, Rajuk revised its design in 2004, 2005, 2009, and in 2013.
Following a public interest litigation in 2013, the High Court endorsed the fourth revision and directed Rajuk not to "efface, subtract, vary or modify the forest, lakes, canals, urban green, parks, playgrounds", as shown in the fourth revised layout plan, without the court's permission.
But Rajuk introduced a fifth revision in 2017, violating the 2014 HC judgment and allegedly allotted 89 plots secretly in 2018 taking land from areas earmarked for schools and their playgrounds, open fields and spaces, as The Daily Star previously reported.
It included an "iconic" tower on around 100 acres, more residential plots, and an increased number of hospitals and clinics as part of Rajuk's plan to introduce a Central Business District (CBD) in the project area, according to Rajuk officials.
Rajuk appealed to the HC for approval of the fifth revision but was rejected in 2018.
At the monthly coordination meeting of Rajuk held last March, officials said they are still trying to involve the attorney general's office in this regard.
Rajuk Chief Engineer Ujjwal Mallick, however, said they will do their job as per the court's direction.
Adil Mohammad Khan said the plan to accommodate the CBD will create greater pressure of people in the project area.
He alleged that the additional commercial and residential plots are being created to accommodate those influential and politically connected.
"According to the existing rules there is scope for constructing a 10- or 12- or 14-storey building on a seven to eight katha plot," he said, questioning how habitable Purbachal will be with up to 20-25 lakh people.
COST HIKED, MONEY AND TIME WASTED
The urban planner also said due to the long delays and many changes in the planning, many roads under the project area now need to be repaired or upgraded.
"Due to the lack of transparency in the planning, main roads which have been constructed as four lanes are now being upgraded to eight lanes, which is a sheer waste of public money and time," he said.
He said this delay was due to Rajuk's failure to determine how the main roads of the project would be classified -- as a national highway or regional highway after construction.
After a digital land survey, land acquisition and development work in the first phase started in the 2002-03 fiscal year. The initial project cost was Tk 3,312 crore and was revised to Tk 7,782 crore in 2010.
In 2015, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved another Tk 5,000 crore for the "Excavation and development of a 100 feet wide and 13.2km canal on both sides of Kuril-Purbachal Link Road (from Kuril to Balu river)."
On November 4, 2018, Ecnec also approved a revised project cost of Tk 10,329.66 crore, which was a revision of the 2015 canal development project with the addition of three more canals, eight-lane expressway, bridges, and other ancillary issues, according to project documents.
The government decision to construct the 12.36km eight-lane expressway from Kuril -- including a six-lane expressway from the Balu river to Kanchan Bridge, three service lanes on each side and other ancillary facilities -- was a belated one.
As a result, Rajuk is now dismantling the existing four-lane road, completed in 2018 at a cost of Tk 275 crore from the second revised budget.
Rajuk's Mallick said, "The proposal of an eight-lane expressway was in the first plan, but we had no money to execute the plan at that time. After getting the money we started it."
He said 80 percent of the canal development work from Kuril to Balu river has been completed.
Regarding the three additional canals, Mallick said the land acquisition is yet to be completed. The canal development project completion deadline is in December this year, as is that for the road expansion.
The project director claimed that plot owners could start living in the project area from July 2022. "The area will be suitable for living by July next year as the water supply will be set up by then," he said.
Adil Mohammad Khan also said overhead power lines were initially constructed but Rajuk is now shifting to an underground cable ducting system, adding that there are no clear guidelines or planning about other utility lines like sewerage, water, and gas.
Asked about sewerage and other facilities, Rajuk's Mallick said these facilities and electricity will only be completed by 2030. Between 60-70 percent of electric lines have already been completed while they will start distributing water in sectors 5 and 6 in the first phase from next February.