Two mayors fail to make Dhaka vibrant

Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and Atiqul Islam

The mayors of the two cities in Dhaka had made commitments to improve the traffic situation to mobilise the city. While assuming office, they promised to bring changes in the transport system of the city to mobilise Dhaka.

However, the situation hasn’t changed even a bit over the last four years. Rather, the city has earned the title of ‘slow-speed city’. Apart from traffic congestion, the two city mayors failed to fulfil most of the commitments they made, according to urban planners and residents of Dhaka.

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Before taking charge, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor said “Dhaka has turned into an unplanned and polluted city due to endless negligence and carelessness. So we have to revive the city.”

He also said that he would ensure all basic civic amenities within 90 days of assuming office.

Meanwhile, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam said he would solve all problems in every ward to build a Dhaka city that is suitable for all.

According to several urban planners and Dhaka residents, the initiatives taken to implement the electoral commitments of the two mayors were sporadic. None of these was sustainable. As a result, even after four years of assuming office, they could not solve problems like mosquito infestation, waterlogging, pollution or illegal occupation of footpaths.

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However, it can’t be said that the mayors couldn’t achieve anything at all. Significant work has been done to recover the canals and to ensure water flow in these canals after taking over the responsibility of the canals from the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA). They have digitised public services. They also have worked for the development of the playing grounds in the city and made these open for all.

Sufferings on the roads in the South city

DSCC mayor Fazle Noor mentioned five aspects in his election manifesto - traditional Dhaka, beautiful Dhaka, vibrant Dhaka, well-governed Dhaka and developed Dhaka.

Referring to beautiful Dhaka, Fazle Noor said in his election manifesto that moving in the city causes unbearable suffering due to severe traffic congestion. People suffer a lot on their daily commute from home to workplace and workplace to home. In particular, the women professionals suffer the most.

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He said to reduce people’s sufferings; initiatives would be taken to control the movement of public transport and a system of separate lanes for slow speed vehicles and for walking would be introduced.

He also promised to make the footpaths free of illegal occupation by rehabilitating the hawkers from there. He said a database of footpath hawkers would be developed for the rehabilitation process.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Javed Jahan, a resident of the Siddik Bazar area in the city and member of the executive committee of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) said not even 10 per cent of the commitment to build a vibrant Dhaka city has been fulfilled. There was not much focus on ensuring basic civic amenities either.

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However, there is some progress, said DSCC spokesperson and public relation officer Md Abu Naser. He said we recovered 57 acres of land owned by the corporation and development works worth Tk 8.21 billion have been done with our own funds.

Meanwhile, the two mayors launched a city bus service through the bus route rationalisation committee to improve the traffic situation. Now the service is on the verge of being closed down.

It was assumed that this city service named Nagar Paribahan would reduce overtaking on the roads and would reduce the tendency of picking up passengers from undesignated spots, which would bring back discipline on the roads to some extent at least.

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However, several residents from the two cities said the two mayors failed to accomplish the unfinished task of late mayor Anisul Haque even in four years.

In response to a question, Sheikh Fazle Noor told Prothom Alo, “We have launched the Nagar Paribahan service on three routes. However, we are struggling to implement the entire plan due to some obstacles.”

He further said, “The modernisation of Sayedabad bus terminal is in the final phase. The terminal opens this June. After that, the buses won’t be allowed to pick up passengers arbitrarily.”

Failures in the North city

The commitments made by DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam includes, improving traffic situation, push button signal to ensure safety of the pedestrians while crossing the road, separate transport system for the students and disabled persons, rehabilitation of the hawkers, separate lane for bi-cycles, smart bus-stops and bus and truck terminal and construction of pedestrian-friendly footpaths. However, in reality, most of these commitments remained unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, Dhaka has become the slowest city in the world according to a research report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research of the US. Dhaka is also among the most polluted cities in the world.

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The DNCC is quite active throughout the year in spraying mosquito repellents, conducting special drives and imposing fines through mobile courts. There are also reports of mosquito workers being careless and contractors cheating while importing mosquito repellent drugs. The DNCC also has taken another initiative of spraying water on the streets to curb air pollution.

Mayor Atiqul Islam promised to launch electric buses in the city to reduce pollution. No initiative has been taken to accomplish this commitment. The work on opening a culture and service centre in each area is yet to be started.

Addressing a press conference organised to mark the completion of four years at the office last Monday, DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam said, “Yes there are failures. I had a wish to build modern livestock slaughterhouse, but could not do that. I had a dream to build a hospital for animals and trees. This too remained unfulfilled. However, a plan is underway in this regard.”

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President of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, an organisation of urban planners, professor Adil Muhammad Khan feels they (the two mayors) could have made ground-breaking contribution to the city had they been able to reorganise the city through bus route rationalisation.  The laws of the country gave them the opportunity to do that. There was a lack of seriousness among the officials to implement it.

He said, “Despite having ample opportunities and having laws in favour of this, the two mayors couldn’t do anything. Therefore the city’s traffic system hasn’t improved as much as the two mayors promised.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu