Monday, 30 January, 2023

Odds in Dhaka’s Planning and Development

M Emdadul Islam

Odds in Dhaka’s Planning and Development

Every city or town contains and imbues with some type of planning or architectural or historical ‘form’. If we look at any town or city anywhere in the world, we will see that in many places settlement patterns and developments begin with their inherent character of people or their profession or traditions, or with some innovative concepts. A few cities also devolved by their noted people or leaders’ contributions. In USA, in Europe or in Asia there are many such examples and some cities are also named after their leaders or heritages. Initially, naming of Dhaka was also derived from such many fictions and facts or cultural backgrounds.  At the beginning, Mogul rulers named this town (Dhaka) as ‘Jahangir Nagor’, after the name of Mogul Emperor ‘Shah Jahan’. The name was popular since the end of Mogul empires in the region. Many historic architectural structures like tombs, forts, khatras etc. had also been developed during the period and named after them or its administrators or dominant professionals. Onwards, naming of many localities and structures in Dhaka both during the British and Pakistan eras also came-up accordingly, but the naming of many of them are now scraped or changed!

For instance, Pak-President General Ayub Khan founded and established the Parliament Complex at the Farm Area by the west of Tejgaon, which was named after him as ‘Ayub Nagor’. But this name changed after our independence and re-named as ‘Sher-e-Bangla Nagor’. Similar changes also happened in many other cases that is in road, building names as well. In some cases, the name changes also happened several times. Whereas, if we look at India or any other old cities in the region or world-wide, we see the founder’s name of any project remains as usual in order to commemorate their history. A few years back, naming of Kurmitola International Airport changed from its opener’s name, by which the new generation are forgetting the past histories. Similarly, name of Dhaka Stadium, Jinnah Avenue, Halls of many public universities etc., have also changed to new names, but interestingly name of Curzon Hall, North Brook Hall etc. yet remains as usual.

On the other hand, the retaining BRD/BGB headquarter, Dhaka Cantonment etc. in the inner-city areas also raises questions to the urban planners and policy makers? Once it was necessary to establish the Rifle Headquarter at Pilkhana or Dhaka Cantonment in the inner-city or in the periphery of the then city limits, which in fact needs to move out from the city area long before. But they are not yet moved outside the city, nor any planning to do it; rather it is observed that the area of these establishments extended. The principal North-South thoroughfare of Dhaka named as Airport Road which is blocked at Tejgaon by the Dhaka Cantonment. Onwards a new Cantonment had also been developed at Mirpur and Savar areas, which is also in contradiction with urban planning of greater Dhaka. Interestingly, the Master Planners or Structure Planners also did not say anything in their planning studies, while preparing or revisiting the these plans in different times even in the new Structure Plan and DAP (2016-2035). 

The rulers in our country also changed or bound to change many projects plan and even the approved master plan. The 1st Master Plan of Dhaka was approved by the President Ayub Khan of Pakistan in 1959-60, and he became the first person, who changed this plan! Ayub Khan founded the Baitul Mukarram Mosque on the alignment of northward-extension of North-South Road towards the north, by the influence of some West Pakistani business men living in those localities. He also founded the parliament complex at the Firm Area of Tejgaon violating the propositions in the Master Plan, instead of its proposed site at Keraniganj (Jinjira) across the river Buriganga. Onwards, more and more such deviations have happened from the planning to reality, both during the Pakistan and even in independent Bangladesh. Many housing and infrastructure projects has also been planned ignoring the provision in the master plan, and khal/canals and other open spaces also filled-up and destroyed or converted to other uses. On the other hand, there were some ‘bad’ propositions or ‘short-sightedness’ in the urban planning of Dhaka like the retaining of cantonments or similar other settlements in the inner-city areas, which is now became a ‘throat-shore’ in the city improvement and expansions.     

On the contrary, many assumptions or propositions in the Master Plan, Structure Plan or in DAPs were also found faulty or someway ‘invalid’ such as annual growth rate forecast, non-extension of Dhaka cantonment area or filling of low-land around the city limits by the influential corners etc. It seems that a few ‘issues’ that were deliberately avoided or ‘pressurized’ to do it- like the retaining of cantonments in the inner-city, keeping the industrial estates inside the city had complicated the overall planning and development in Dhaka. There were also some other problems with this master plan that is it did not foresee the rapid development in the core and surrounding areas would experience. Additionally, the urban governance and management structures in their infancy also did not get the enough weightage, though Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman attempted to create a new suitable organization for the planning and development of capital city Dhaka on 1974, but this was thwarted after the 1975 coup d’état.

After 1975, a detailed strategic study namely ‘Dhaka Metropolitan Area Integrated Urban Development Project’ (DMAIUDP) on Dhaka Metropolitan Area and its conurbations was carried out. The study suggested for the restructuring of DIT as DMPA and DMDA, and preparation of ‘Structure’ and ‘Detailed Area Planning’ (DAP) for the orderly growths of Dhaka, but it did happen immediately. The Planning Commission people thought that it (DMAIUDP) was the Master Plan study, so why a new Master Plan require again? However, almost after a decade, the first Structure Plan preparation began. The Project named as ‘Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan’ (DMDP, 1995-2015) containing the Structure and Urban Area Plans approved on 1996, without modifying the TI Act, as there are no provisions of Structure Plan or DAP in the existing TI Act. It was thought that the planners to have learned from previous failures, but in reality, it did not. The basic question is- without the revision in the Town Improvement Act-1953, how the new plan packages (Structure Plan, Urban Area Plan and DAP) was prepared by the RAJUK? And the same mistakes were done in new DAP (2016-2035) preparations!   

The plans also became controversial both from statutory obligations and professional ethics due to many breaches and deviations from the approved Structure and Urban Area Plans. Not a single project had been initiated or undertaken in the light of this DAP (2010-2015); rather the Inter-ministerial Review Committee recommended for the approval of a few large scale residential projects like Bashundhara, Jolshiri, Police Offices Housing and two-three numbers another housing projects of government officials including the Boat Club on the shores of river Turag by changing the land-use plan provisions of that DAP. Which urban experts mentioned that ‘a deceptive move of the policymakers’ and also questioned ‘how could the review committee allow the conversion of flood flow zones and water-bodies to urban residential zones, when prime minister Sheikh Hasina herself also says that none of water-bodies and flood flow zones will be allowed to be destroyed?’  

Besides that, now about 22 ministries and 51 agencies are involved in the planning and development process of Dhaka, even though RAJUK is the main agency for it. The empowerment of planning to DNCC & DSCC or Narayanganj and Gazipur City Corporations obviously compounds the issues more. The administrative capacity to manage the increasing size of the city, in terms of area and population, simply does not exist in any authorities. In these regards, efforts to reform both RAJUK and DNCC & DSCC were seemingly counterproductive now! For example, a single window approach to provide construction building permits by RAJUK did not work. It failed for a number of reasons such as the ingrained plurality in city planning and management. In such a situation, without any comprehensive studies and all on a sudden the DCC bifurcated in to Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), creating a chaos in urban administration and management. 

After the lapse of tenure of the first Structure Plan DAP, the preparation of the 2nd Structure Plan and DAP began on time i.e. on 2014-2015. The draft ‘Dhaka Structure Plan’ (DSP) prepared place for its approval on 2017. The then Works Minister and the Mayors of Dhaka (DSCC & DNCC), Narayanganj and Gazipur cities together all criticized the plan and its propositions. They all asked for its re-planning and obtain more public comments on it. But it is not done, rather RAJUK prepared a new DAP (2016-2035) based on this draft DSP and amid the pandemic COVID-19 they arranged public hearing on this new DAP. After that various professional bodies like Institute of Architects (IAB), Institute of Engineers (IEB), Institute of Planners (BIP), Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Real Estate Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB) and Bangladesh Land Developers Association (BLDA) started to criticize the proposals in the Plan. Major dispute rises on the proposition of ‘Area-based Height Control’ strategy and ignorance in filling-up of wet lands (flood flow zones) in the eastern side of Dhaka. DAP planners proposes for reducing the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) in the inner-city areas, which is not endorsed by IAB, IEB and REHAB members. Similarly, BLDA people raises objection on their related issues that is for non-showing of their housing projects in daft DAP, which they have been developed on the wet-lands by filling sand and earths. In such a situation, very recently DAP (2016-2035) has approved and gazette without the approval of Structure Plan (2016-2035) that raises new confusion and criticisms, in the same way of earlier DAPs!  

However, there are some good ideas and propositions in new DAPs like Guided Mixed-Use Planning, Density Zoning, Creation of ‘Blue Network’ and Urban Lifelines, Development of Affordable and Block Housing if needed, by the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), Transit Oriented Development (TOD), School District Concept in Neighborhoods, Parks or Playground in all Wards etc. But before the approval or implementation of these suggestions, DAP planners involve in more debates with different professional bodies and stake-holders mainly on the Area-based Height Control Strategies. DAP planners argue that due to the present Floor Area Ratio (FAR) provisions in the existing Dhaka Metropolitan Building Construction Rules, Dhaka’s population has increased rapidly, that’s why it has been reduced in new DAP.  Besides that there still remain other flaws in the new DAP, which are as flow- (1) Ignorance of Flood Flow Zones that is demarcation of khals, canals, water-bodies, catchment and retention areas was not properly done and thus upon the implementation of this DAP, there will be risk of losing 70 percent of city’s available water-bodies; (2) Proposal for withdrawal of mandatory provisions of keeping car parking in each building precincts etc.

In such a situation, it’s a big question- what will be the benefits of new DAP in DMR? If any plan is not prepared through the proper way, study, analysis of situations, professional integrity and public hearings, how will it be fruitful and effective for implementations? As we have seen that the 1st Master Plan and the 2nd Master Plan covering the Structure Plan, Urban Area Plan and DAPs could not produce any good results in the positive urban development of Dhaka! All those plans are now hanged on the RAJUK’s wall, but they are not for any good or benefits of Dhaka’s mass population. After the elapse of time, again a new set of plans will be prepared, but the city will grow in its own way and in ‘laissez faire’ styles!


The writer is an engineer-planner and urban analyst