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People from different strata including environmentalists, urban planners, and nature-loving people are protesting the tree felling at Suhrawardy Udyan. They have questioned the logic of constructing eateries or other structures by chopping down the trees. People have also turned to Facebook to protest the matter. According to urban planners, each large city requires a green space of 20 per cent of its total area while. Dhaka city has it 12 per cent and Old Dhaka 5 per cent.

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Previously, Suhrawardy Udyan was the Race Course ground. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave his historic speech here on 7 March 1971. Bangabandhu addressed thousands of people saying, “The struggle this time, is the struggle for our freedom! The struggle this time, is the struggle for our independence!" The defeated Pakistan forces of the independence war also surrendered at the Race Course ground on 16 December 1971. After independence, the Indian prime minister and one of the champions of the liberation war, Indira Gandhi, delivered her speech here on 17 March 1972 during her visit to Bangladesh.

Historian professor Muntasir Mamun told Prothom Alo, “Suhrawardy Udyan is a historic site and it’s a constitutional duty of the government to protect it. I think Suhrawardy Udyan must be kept untouched as much as possible. Structures can be built, but these should spread all over the area. We have given our opinions various times to protect the parks and trees in Dhaka city. Most of the time our opinions go unheard.”

The liberation war affairs ministry has initiated the Shawdhinata Stambha (independence monument) construction project at the Suhrawardy Udyan. The Department of Architecture under the housing and public works ministry has designed the third phase of the project. The liberation war affairs ministry, the Public Works Department and the Dhaka South City Corporation are implementing the project. The National Development Engineers Limited is the contractor firm of the project.

Construction of various structures, including an underground parking facility for 500 vehicles, a beautiful lake surrounded by walkways, an underpass, a mosque, a children park's with the latest rides, food courts, a power sub-station, a sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a sculpture on the site where Pakistan forces signed the instruments of surrender and the Indira Mancha, has been underway since 2018.

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Work of the project’s third phase was set to end in December 2019, but 47 per cent of the construction has been completed as of February this year so far.

‘Several’ trees are felled

Construction of the first phase of the Swadhinata Stambha began at Suhrawardy Udyan in 1998, spending Tk 2.62 billion (262.88 crore) in the first and the second phases. Began in 2018, Tk 2.65 billion (265.44 crore) will be spent in the third phase. Work including a 150-feet glass tower construction, Shikha Chironton (eternal flame) at the north end of the ground, a lake, an underground museum, installing mural on wall, an open stage in front of Bangla Academy, a new gate and the metal fence surrounding the entire ground, has been carried out at Suhrawardy Udyan in various phases over the past 23 years.

Trees have been felled at Suhrawardy Udyan in various times to carry out the development activities. Now it’s happening again.

Visiting the Suhrawardy Udyan on on 4-5 May, it was seen that construction of several structures was underway to build food outlets. Bricks have been laid on a part of the walkways and surface soil has been removed from some parts. Several trees have been cut down since they were in the walkway areas. Several other trees have also been marked with crosses. The authorities said was done by the protesters. On the other hand, the protesters said these trees have been are marked only to be cut down. over 100 trees have been marked with crosses. Besides, piles of bricks, stones and iron rods were seen all over.

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Prime minister Sheikh Hasina approved a mega plan of the Shawdhinata Stambha construction (third phase) project in 2017. The Department of Architecture carried out the architectural design of the project’s third phase. Superintendent architect at the Department of Architecture and main planner of the master plan for the project’s third phase, Asifur Rahman Bhuiyan told Prothom Alo that he has no data on how many trees will be cut down for the development work at this phase of the project. Trees are being felled only for constructing walkways or carrying out development activities, but instructions have been given not to cut down any large tree, he added.

Where will the data related to tree feeling be available? In reply to this query, architect Asifur Rahman Bhuiyan said this information will be available at the Public Works Department (PWD). However, superintendent engineer of the PWD’s Population Project Cell Jamilur Rahman told Prothom Alo that they have sent the information related to tree felling to the liberation war affairs ministry. He suggested contacting the liberation war affairs ministry to learn about it.

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The liberation war affairs ministry, in a press release on 5 May, said the ministry is implementing a mega plan at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan to present the actual history of the independence war to the future generation and to the world. Though ‘several trees’ were felled during the implementation of the mega plan at Suhrawardy Udyan, initiative has been taken to plant about 1,000 more trees.

Regarding this, liberation war affairs minister AKM Mozammel Haque told Prothom Alo, “We have written about the matter of tree felling. Please, report on this. We don’t have the data on how many trees have been chopped down. Ask them to come after counting (the fallen trees). If we listen to you, we won’t able to do anything. There was no park here ever. Horse races took place at the Race Course ground. Rallies have been taken place. Now propaganda is being carried out claiming that there was a forest. We ourselves have planted thousands of trees and will plant more.”

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The minister further said those who don’t respect the spirit of the liberation are trying to hamper their work by saying such things.

What experts say

Vising the Suhrawardy Udyan, it was found that a certain authority has installed notices in various places of ground. Painted with an image of a large tree, the notice states work of planned greenery and environment development is underway to beautify the Udyan under Shawdhinata Stambha construction project in the historic Suhrawardy Udyan. Earnest cooperation from all is expected.

Regarding tree felling, superintendent architect at the Department of Architecture, Asifur Rahman Bhuiyan told Prothom Alo, “First of all, whatever has been happening here is being carried out in line with the design approved by the appropriate authority of the government. No work is being done other than the approved design. The number of walkways has been increased so that people can move without walking on the green grass. For this reason, unnecessary trees are being cut down. No rules were followed to plant trees at the Suhrawardy Udyan and we also have a plan to plant new trees.”

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According to the Department of Architecture, there will be flowering trees around the year at Suhrawardy Udyan. It will increase greenery. There will be lampposts and people can visit the ground at night. There will also be various facilities including restrooms and rain shelters.

However, the principal architect of "Jol Sobujer Dhaka" project taken by Dhaka South City Corporation to modernise 31 parks and playgrounds under located its jurisdiction, Rafiq Azam, told Prothom Alo that a planner must follow scientific method to do calculations for an structure. Public opinions also get priority. If tree felling is required to build the structures, there will be a clear logical reason for it too. Cutting down of unnecessary trees will have some explanation too. And how many trees will be felled must be made public, he added.

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Urban planner Iqbal Habib alleged, “Construction of various concrete structures including food outlets and walkways has been included during the 3D presentation of the project’s master plan in the third phase to expand the project. Excuses are being made to cut down old trees. And it’s unfortunate that no survey and pre-survey have been made public before the project. People-friendly procedures haven’t been followed.”

Cutting down of city trees at night and amid lockdown is affecting Dhaka and by any means it’s not accepted. People involved in this must be punished, he added.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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