Prioritise people, not coteries | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 16, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 16, 2015

DHAKA STRUCTURE PLAN 2016-2035

Prioritise people, not coteries

With the existing Dhaka Metropolitan Development plan (DMDP) 1995-2015 mostly unimplemented, and its term expiring this year, Rajuk has embarked on drawing up a new master plan. The proposed Dhaka Structure Plan 2016-2035 is formulated under the City Region Development project funded by the ADB and Bangladesh government.

Recently, Rajuk has presented the draft master plan in a seminar to seek opinion from experts and practitioners. But they should have done this at the initial stage of preparing the plan. However, I have serious reservations about the proposed draft. Firstly, there is no reflection of people's participation in the document. It has been formulated without taking urban experts and other relevant stakeholders on board. Even the local public representatives are not adequately informed about the plan. 

Secondly, I do not find any strong logic behind changing the existing structure plan. It was prepared in 1995 and gazetted in 1997. Later a Detailed Area Plan (DAP), based on the structure plan, came into being in 2010. Initially, a few decisions were implemented under that DAP. But mostly, it has remained unimplemented due to strong protests from real estate owners and various interest groups. The government formed a seven-member review committee, comprising of seven ministers. But it failed to give any directives to carry forward the plan. Against this background, the logic of formulating another structural plan has very little relevance to me. 

Housing Minister Mosharraf Hossain has said, “Now we have to prepare a pragmatic DAP,” referring to the existing DAP as a “plan prepared at home”. He should keep in mind that the DAP was formulated by a government nominated engineer. We, under the leadership of Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, made the government aware of its various loopholes and assisted them to make it pro-people and pragmatic. There was an attempt in the earlier version of the plan to exempt land grabbers and real estates from the crime of grabbing flood flow zones and water bodies. But we insisted on incorporating a provision in the document that no one can be exempted for such unlawful activities after 2000, since the structural plan was gazzetted and made public in 1997. So I do not understand what the minister is trying to mean by the word 'pragmatic'. 

My third point is related with the protection of flood flow zones, canals, rivers and flood water retention areas. Conservation of these water bodies is vital to prevent urban flooding, help ground percolation, drainage and overall liveability of the city. The way the document was prepared behind closed doors, we have valid reasons to fear whether Rajuk has prioritised people's interest or interest of a coterie since implementation of the existing DAP was stalled by real estate owners and land grabbers. Naryanganj City Mayor Dr. Selina Hayat Ivy has also expressed frustration saying that the proposed plan, foiling the existing one, had a deliberate attempt to legalise the acts of land grabbers. 

Another important aspect is ensuring access to open spaces like parks and playgrounds. The proposed plan should have clear directives in this regard. The issue of affordable housing for the poor people should also be clearly addressed in the proposed plan. 

I want to request the government to not proceed with the plan hastily. It needs to be critically evaluated by all the stakeholders. The government should incorporate their suggestions as well. 

The commentator is an Architect and Member Secretary, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA).

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