No playground in 41 wards in Dhaka

A market is being constructed on the Dhupkhola field in Old DhakaDipu Malakar

The local children and teenagers have been deprived of the opportunity to play at the Dhupkhola field in Old Dhaka for the last eight months due to the ongoing development work there.

The senior citizens used to exercise and walk in the field. That too has been stopped. The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) is constructing a five storey shopping complex on one portion of the field. The field cannot be opened unless the construction works is finished.

Although the situation of Shyamoli Club field under the jurisdiction of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) is not as bad as the Dhupkhola field, children and teenagers cannot play there. A fair has been going on here for about a month. The field was mainly used by children and the teenagers, who were trainees of the club. The locals also had the opportunity to walk in the morning and afternoon. Now everything is closed.

There are 129 wards in the two city corporation areas of Dhaka. There are no playgrounds in 41 of those. This information came up in the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) of the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK). There is no playing field in 10 wards under DNCC and 31 wards under DSCC. Although other wards have playgrounds, not all playgrounds are open to the public. Some fields are occupied by private clubs and some fields are closed in the name of development work and fairs.

Amidst the crisis over playgrounds in the capital, police have started construction of a boundary wall to construct a building for police station at Tetultala playground in Kalabagan area. Despite the protests of the local people and the strong objections of the prominent citizens, the police have not yet moved away from the construction of the police station.

According to the urban planners, a playground is required for every half square kilometres of area. The two city corporations have an area of 305.47 square kilometres. That means the two city corporations should have at least 610 playgrounds. However, in reality the number is only 256. The total size of these playgrounds is 209.12 acres. Generally, the size of playgrounds varies from one to three acres at ward level. However, there are at least 20 fields in different wards of the two city corporations which are less than one acre.

The urban planners say if they consider the population instead of size, Dhaka would need even more playgrounds. The detailed area plan made for Dhaka says according to the international standard, a playground is needed for every 12,500 people. Around 18,400,000 people live in the two cities in the capital. As such Dhaka needs a total of 1,466 playgrounds.

Gazi Ashraf Hossain, former captain of Bangladesh national cricket team, thinks the present generation is being affected due to the lack of opportunity to play.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “Due to lack of farsighted thoughts, the number of playgrounds in Dhaka has gradually decreased. The people in power have never thought of the importance of playgrounds. Playgrounds are also necessary for the mental growth of the children and developing their sense of morality and brotherhood.”

“If we snatch the playgrounds from the children, it will create a negative impact on them,” Gazi Ashraf said, adding, “Everyone should be vocal for saving the playgrounds. The people concerned should be strict to the fact that every residential project must include playgrounds as per the need.”

The occupied fields yet to be recovered

Most of the playgrounds in Dhaka city are under different educational institutions. There are a few fields which are under the jurisdiction of different agencies.

Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), an organisation of urban planners, conducted a research on playgrounds in Dhaka in 2019 titled ‘Review of the demand and deficit of playgrounds in Dhaka’. According to that research, there are a total of 235 playing fields, including public and private fields, in the 93 wards under the two city corporations (excluding the newly added 36 wards in the two city corporations). Apart from that, there are 21 playgrounds in the newly added 36 wards. Of the 235 playgrounds, 141 are under the ownership of educational institutions, 24 are colony based fields and 12 are used as Eidgah. Some 16 of the state owned fields have been occupied in several ways. Apart from that, there are 42 fields which anyone can use.

A month-long clothing trade fare is being held on the Shyamoli Club field
Zahidul Karim

According to the research conducted by BIP, the Shyamoli Club field in ward no. 32 of DNCC was number one in the list of occupied fields.

A visit to the field on Tuesday revealed that the field was being used for holding a month-long clothing trade fair organised by the Shyamoli Club on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. The field is also owned by the club.

At least 60 temporary shops have been set up in the field using bamboo and canvas for the fair. Most of them are saree or punjabi shops. Besides, some ornamental shops have also been set up. Although it is a clothing trade fair, a carousel has also been set up for the entertainment of children.

Prothom Alo tried to contact Arifur Rahman, general secretary of Shyamoli Club and convenor of Awami Jubo League’s Adabor unit, for his comment on organising a fair in the playground over the phone several times. However, he didn’t receive calls.

Regarding organising the fair, Syed Hasan Nur Islam, councillor of ward no. 32 of DNCC, said the field was not under the jurisdiction of the DNCC. Asked about giving permission for holding the fair he said, “It is beyond my knowledge. They hold fairs with permissions from the high-ups. But I don’t know who gives the permission.”

Market on the field

The Dhupkhola field was in the list of open fields of BIP. The size of the field is 7.47 acres. Several local people said three playgrounds were interconnected here. There were around 394 shops surrounding the field. One portion of the field was used by the students of the Jagannath University, one portion was used by the East & Club and the remaining portion was open to all. In total, hundreds of people used to play here, including both children and adults.

As part of the development project, all the shops surrounding the field have been demolished. A five-storey market is being constructed on the western portion of the field for the new allotments of these shops. In addition to the shops, there will be walkways, seating arrangements, car parks, restaurants and special arrangements for children's entertainment.

Speaking regarding this, Md Abul Hasem, supervising engineer of DSCC, said, “A market is being constructed at one side of the field for the rehabilitation of the traders.”

He claimed that the field is not being harmed by this. Rather the field would be of international standard.

Visiting the Dhupkhola field on Friday it was seen that the size of the field has shrunk a lot due to the construction work. Players of a cricket academy were seen practising at one side of the field.

Several local people said that the main characteristic of the field had been ruined by the development work. They said there were three fields here. But once the development work was finished, it would turn into a single field.

They further said three cricket academies and two football academies used to practice here. As a result, there would be no space for common people once the development work is finished.

Seeking anonymity, a local trader said the development work is being conducted only for commercial interests. The playing environment has not been prioritised here.

At least one playground in every ward

According to the detailed area plan of RAJUK, there are no playgrounds in ward no. 21, 23, 25, 30, 35,37,38,39 41 and ward no. 47 of DNCC.

On the other hand, there is no playground in ward no. 2, 3, 16, 22, 25, 28, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37 41, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 60, 61, 62, 64, 67, 71, 72, 73, 74 and ward no. 75 of DSCC.

Playgrounds are also important in terms of public health, socialising, environment and economy. However, it’s unfortunate that Dhaka doesn’t have enough playgrounds. The open fields are being destroyed in the name of development here instead of increasing the number of playgrounds
Professor Adeel Muhammad Khan, Urban planner

The urban planners say that every ward in Dhaka should have at least one playground. And it should not be used for any other reasons. The trend to allot fields for fairs and other programmes should be stopped. In addition, there should be special monitoring to ensure that the fields are not being used as a floating market or truck or rickshaw stand.

Urban planner professor Adeel Muhammad Khan says playground serve as the lungs of an area. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “Playgrounds are also important in terms of public health, socialising, environment and economy. However, it’s unfortunate that Dhaka doesn’t have enough playgrounds. The open fields are being destroyed in the name of development here instead of increasing the number of playgrounds. The government should find a way to increase the number of playgrounds by getting rid of such mentality.

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