‘Developing’ Dhupkhola field, but for whose benefit?
There is no scope to even take up a single inch of the field's land, as playing fields are already scarce in the megacity.
In a city already devoid of adequate playgrounds, there is a field in Old Dhaka's Gendaria area that has not only stood the test of time but also remains a testament to the capital's sporting legacy.
This Dhupkhola field is not just another playground where people of all ages play sports, including football, cricket, basketball and volleyball. It's a place where people from nearby neighbourhoods also meet, hangout and spend time together with family or friends.
Over the years, the field has become a part of the area's heritage and pride.
However, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has started building a market inside the Dhupkhola field, which will not just shrink the space significantly, but also change its characteristics.
This is apparently part of an initiative to "develop" the premises, but according to experts, the plan is ignoring the field's main purpose -- providing adequate area for people to play.
The 7.47-acre field is divided in three parts -- Jagannath College (now Jagannath University) field, East End Club playground, and an open field for all. There's also a park at a corner of the East End Club playground next to a club tent.
Each of the three parts is bigger than a standard football field.
According to the DSCC plan, the authorities will construct a five-storey market to house the 394 shops set up around the fields.
This move will take up 0.62-acre of the total field. The city corporation is also going to construct walkways, seating arrangements, parking spaces and a cafeteria, which will further reduce the field's space.
Besides, there will also be a children's zone, which will take up 0.6-acre of the field's space, according to the project document.
The document, however, did not mention how much green space the other arrangements will take up. When asked, the authorities did not disclose the information.
The document, however, did show that after the "development" work, the total football field area will come down to 4.01 acres from the initial 7.47 acres.
According to experts, although the proposed design may make it beautiful, the main features of the field will be lost.
Dhupkhola field is also historically significant to the country's sports scene, which is one of the reasons why many are so concerned by this move.
Md Yakub, coach of Dhupkhola cricket academy, said the field has been welcoming all for decades. Many national cricket players -- like the first Test centurion of Bangladesh, Aminul Islam Bulbul, Marshal Ayub and Mohammad Zakir Hossain -- trained in the field.
He said they along with Bulbul protested DSCC's move, but the corporation did not pay heed.
Mohammad Rafique, the national cricketer who is often considered to be one of the best spinners to have played for the country, used to train and play friendly matches at Dhupkhola field.
Besides, former national team footballers such as Ataur and Mamun Babu also trained there.
History aside, presently, every year national players are generated from Dhupkhola field. Over a thousand children and youths play cricket and football there from morning to evening daily, and there are three cricket and two football academies there.
"The city corporation did not say anything about the future of our academy, under which 150 to 200 cricketers, including national age-group players, practise every day," said Rezaul Islam, who was an under-19 national player in 2006, when Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim were his teammates.
"There are three cricket academies here, and under them, around 500 cricketers practise on a regular basis," said Rezaul, also head of Gendaria Cricket Academy.
Another former cricketer, seeking anonymity, said the city corporation could have constructed the walkways in areas currently occupied by shops, but they are doing development work inside the field, reducing its total area by around two-thirds.
The premise has many old trees, which were planted in the beginning of the 80s. They will come under attack during development work, which is very unfortunate, said Yakub.
Every year, at least 50 players participate in the age-level national cricket competition and get a chance to be part of the 20-player age-level national squad, said Nakib Rezwan Shams, a player who had participated in the Under-19 Cricket World Cup.
"The question is, where will these students go now? As the field shrinks, it will be tough for players of the academies to practise together," he said.
Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said there is no scope to even take up a single inch of the field's land, as playing fields are already scarce in the megacity.
Their research showed that the city's fields barely meet 10 percent of the public demand.
"Walkways are important, but using the field's land for this purpose will shrink the field and change its main characteristics," he said.
"As seen before, in the name of building multipurpose fields, its main features get lost in the process," he said, adding that revisiting this decision is very important.
Jagannath University Proctor Dr Mostafa Kamal said their students have been using the field since 1982. "We have met with the mayor, and he assured us that we will be able to use the field," he said.
Kamal said they also issued letters to the Prime Minister's Office, education ministry and DSCC, so that they can use the field until Jagannath University gets a new campus.
Contacted, Munshi Md Abul Hashem, director of Dhupkhola Math (field) Development Project, said it is not true that two-thirds of the field will be taken up, but some parts will be used for the market, walkways and other purposes.
Everyone will get the chance to play there; no one will be deprived, he said.
As for why all these facilities are being built inside the field instead of somewhere outside it, Hashem pointed to space constraints.
About the East End Club playground, executive engineer (zone 5) Saiful Islam Joy said they will construct a structure at the place of the tin-shed structure (which is used as the club's office).
He, however, did not say whether that will be used as an office for the club.
Contacted, architect Atikur Rahaman Atik of Prokalpa Upodeshta Ltd, the consultancy firm working for the project, which has a budget of around Tk 80 crore, said the development work started from September and will take a year to finish.
Atik said they are going to shift the shops and bring them into the five-storey market. Once that is done, the city corporation will be able to use the empty area for other purposes. The plan is to set up a green space, with seating arrangements.
There will be a car-parking facility for 58 vehicles in the market's basement and for 31 at certain spots of the field. A total of 0.6 acres have been reserved on the field's south-west corner for children's play-zone, where they will install slides and see-saws.
They are merging all three parts of the field into one; no structure will divide it. This will make Dhupkhola field bigger than an international one, he claimed.