Election time is full of promises. Wowed by the vows, some of us are the happiest. Many of us are steeply sceptical; we suffer the most. Most of us believe the rhetoric, or pretend to, otherwise candidates would not have been spewing material for us to build castles in the air, election after election.
Then there are those who make life complicated by their self-inflicted choices. They believe there should be a DWCC and a DECC to make city life more bearable. Actually, to accommodate more mayoral aspirants. What? Also a DNNWCC?
In this climate of fragmentation, some still stand by the unification theory that Dhaka should return to its former glory of mosquitoes and waterlogging under one Mayor. We have been told that the major menace of the city, traffic jam, is not a CC matter. Chee Chee! Then who?
Some promises are believable. For instance, it is indeed possible for a Mayor to attend office every day of the year. Although exaggerated, that is a commitment to serve, perhaps necessary too. Ambiguity however remains about his location on the 366th day.
Committing beyond the corporation’s agenda is excusable on grounds of overenthusiasm. Nevertheless, resolving the traffic problems of Dhaka city within three months is a mayoral candidate misquoted. I hope. The promise nevertheless is not as ludicrous as it sounds in mainstream print.
Given elusive funds and illusive efficient management, a Mayor shall indeed be able to solve all the issues related to traffic movement that are under the jurisdiction of others. For example, keeping the roads free of municipal garbage, and the pavements clear. The real issue remaining is whether we the people shall move according to his plans.
There are overhead bridges we are too ayeshi to use. After pedestrians rejected even escalators at Banani overbridge, and continued to jaywalk, the only option left now, it seems, is to carry all pedestrians over the bridge on our shoulders to save them from being run over.
Underpasses have failed too due to our misdeeds. The one at Karwan Bazaar has become a cesspool. Had more people frequented the underground crossing, there would not have been the privacy to urinate or go beyond. One thing for sure though, Mayors need to work on many, many more public toilets in the capital to keep the air stench-free.
The underground crossover at Gulistan is more of a mall with hundreds of small shops, and I fear designers and merchandisers have compromised fire safety in lieu of commercialisation. We are waiting for an impending fire disaster. The Mayor has a role to play here because he grants the trade license without which no one can do business within the City Corporation.
The city has very few toilets, separated by miles, and they too are generally unusable, even when charging for a short visit. Often the rent collector goes off duty, probably to use a cleaner toilet somewhere else at a distance. Free toilets could have been a winning pledge of a candidate, but maybe they could not find the right words.
There are parks, green or not, but occupied by scruffy shops, greasy vehicles, and dirty occupations, under oath to musclepersons and part-time politicians. Mayors have tried repeatedly to shoo them away, albeit half-heartedly, but they come right back under the very nose of law enforcers and municipal minders.
Revelling picnic parties loaded on buses, including voters, are notorious for off-loading everything from banana peel to half-eaten sandwiches, from diapers to plastic bottles, on to the public road, adding to the Mayor’s daily garbage. It is unfair to blame the Mayor who is not even on that bus.
Wrong, double and triple parking is the norm in malls and business areas. It is our doing. We would not park at a distance and walk to our destination, the same many of us, who do so happily in countries where there is public awareness and conscientiousness. It is not always done by policing.
Chaos in front of most schools is the result of the luxury parents choose to enjoy at the cost of public nuisance. Some of them alight from their vehicle, blocking the traffic behind, only after the driver alights to open the rear side door. Again, after a child has been collected, the driver does the difficult job of shutting the rear side door before getting in. The child clearly learnt nothing at school because you can see things thrown out of the window, live.
Garbage we will dump anywhere and everywhere, especially rivers and waterbodies, usually across from our own house. The problem is the neighbours opposite who do the same.
Cough we will everywhere, into other people’s faces and the street; they are both the same to many lordly citizens. This issue we can readily resolve without the help of any city corporation employee. Options are to stop smoking, avoid catching cold, cover our mouth when coughing, and calculate the expanse between us and the nearest person.
Painting political slogans and sticking posters on someone else’s wall, vehicle, door and window, is something we consider our “right”. There have been almost none lately because of the just-concluded city corporation elections, possibly due to stakeholders abiding by Election Commission directives. However, the points earned there have been heavily lost due to a barrage of laminated posters of candidates, hung over many streets. There was a court order to remove them, but I guess removing would be tantamount to claiming responsibility of creating the environmental disaster, and so no one removed them.
Unless we the people choose to practice civic behaviour and stop depending on five municipal workers to clean the rubbish of five lakh others, this city will continue to become increasingly unmanageable. No mayoral 24/7 office hours, and no strongly worded manifesto shall work. As an example, we have seen what happened to the nearly seven thousand waste bins installed in yellow and blue by the two city corporations in 2016. They were abused, misused and stolen.
Mayors can only do that much. It is also up to us to present a successful Mayor.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.