Tentultala ground: Police press on with construction

Environmental activists to mount legal battle
With a football and a cricket bat in their hands, the children silently watch workers employed by the Kalabagan Police Station build a wall on their playground yesterday. A good number of police personnel can be seen in the background. Photo: Prabir Das

Police carried on construction work at the city's Tentultala playground yesterday though Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said he had asked the city corporation and others concerned to find an alternative place for Kalabagan Police Station.

Speaking to journalists after a programme in  Tejgaon yesterday, the minister said if a suitable place for the station cannot be found, a decision would be made later upon discussions.

During a visit to the playground around 11:30am yesterday, it was found that construction work was going on amid presence of dozens of police personnel.

Earlier on Sunday, Kalabagan police picked up Ratna, who has been leading protests to save Tentultala playground, along with her son Mohammad Isha Abdullah. Police released the mother and son around 13 hours later, taking an undertaking that she would not get involved in any movement to protect the playground.

Ratna, coordinator of Tentultala Math Rakkhya Andolon, and her son were detained around 11:00am when she went live on Facebook while construction work was going on at the playground under police supervision.

At a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity yesterday morning, green organisations and rights bodies said they would go for legal battle over the detention of Ratna and her son, the undertaking and retention of the playground.

They also demanded that the government ensure security of Ratna, her family as well as the protesters and conduct an impartial probe into the incident and bring to book those responsible for detaining Ratna and her minor son unlawfully.

The demands were placed by leaders of 12 organisations, including Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon; Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela); Transparency International Bangladesh; Nijera Kari; Ain O Salish Kendra; Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust; Nagarik Udyog and Bangladesh Udichi Shilpigoshthi.

They also demanded that the government keep the Tentultala playground open to all and stop the construction of a police station there.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bela, said, "Police could have arrested her [Ratna] after filing a case if they deemed that she had broken a law. Then things would have progressed according to a legal process…

"But police cannot pick up anyone at will, and they certainly cannot detain her under-18 son and put him in lockup."

Mentioning that police claimed that Ratna had created obstacles to a government work, Rizwana asked whether it's a government work to construct a police station on a playground.

"Is detention of a woman and her under-18 son without following legal procedures a government work?

"We do not think this is a government work. There is no scope for legalising illegal activities in the name of government work," she stated.

Mubassar Hussain, vice president of Bapa, said, "Police are friends of people, and if that's the case, their first duty would be to protect the playground. But we are seeing a different picture."

Tentultala has been used as a playground, Eidgah and a place for recreation. How can this place be turned into a police station? he asked.

Terming the police move a might-is-right attitude, Bapa Joint Secretary Iqbal Habib said detention of Ratna and her son for 13 hours without following any legal procedure is a violation of law and the country's constitution.

Referring to the law for conservation of playground, open spaces, parks and water bodies, he said no one can change the characteristics of a playground. Since the place has been used as a playground for five decades, it would be illegal to change its characteristics.

Rights activist Khushi Kabir moderated the press conference.

On January 31, Dhaka Deputy Commissioner's Office handed over the playground to Dhaka Metropolitan Police for constructing a building for Kalabagan Police Station. At present, a rented place on 30 North Road is being used as the police station.

Over the years, Tentultala playground, which covers one bigha of land, has been in use in multiple ways. It has been used as a playground, Eidgah and a place for namaz-e-janaza.

Residents of the area refuse to give up hope of retaining the playground. For several months, they've been demonstrating with the demand to keep it as it is.

Yesterday afternoon, a rally was held at the playground, demanding steps so that locals can perform Eid jamaat there as in the previous years.

Meanwhile, 19 eminent citizens protested the detention of Ratna and her son.

They asked why a person has to be detained for staging protests, and said this type of barrier to freedom of speech is "bringing the country to a standstill".

In a statement yesterday, they also protested the undertaking which police took from Ratna before releasing her, and demanded its scrapping.

They suggested that the authorities find an alternative place to construct the police station and keep the Tentultala playground as it is.

The signatories are Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury; Syed Hasan Imam; Anupam Sen; Ramendu Majumdar; Sarowar Ali; Ferdousi Majumdar; Abed Khan; Selina Hossain; Abdus Selim; Laila Hasan; Mofidul Haque; Mamunur Rashid; Muntasir Mamun; Nasiruddin Yusuff; Harun Habib; Shahriar Kabir; Sara Zaker; Shimul Yusuf and Shafi Ahmed.


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