Why should a lake become a commercial hub?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Dhanmondi Lake is one of the few open spaces still left in Dhaka, the city of 15 million people.

Though it was just an ordinary water body (jheel) in the sixties, it was later transformed into a proper lake.

In fact, a huge amount of money was also spent for its beautification during the Awami League regime.

But, is that old charm of the Dhanmondi Lake still there? In a single word, no, it is not. Who are responsible for this?

Dhaka South City Corporation, responsible for protecting the lake, is ruining the environment itself by providing ruling party men opportunities to open restaurants one after another there.

During a visit to the lake on 17 February, the Prothom Alo correspondent found waste and garbage from the restaurants were destroying the lake’s environment.

This commercialisation is aimed to facilitate business opportunities for the ruling party leaders through, not for addressing the needs of people visiting the lake.

There are even allegations that the concerned people don’t even care about rules and regulations of the lake.

Dividing the lake into seven sectors, south city corporation has leased out six of them to leaders of Awami League or parties affiliated with it. There are 13 restaurants those six sectors.

Though they were supposed to run food vans as per lease terms, large restaurants have been set up instead. The city corporation isn’t taking any steps against this either.

Apart from that, the news of several youth gangs springing up around the lake is worrying as well.

Marine engineer Shahadat Hossain Mazumder (51) was murdered at the lake on 22 October night. Snatchers are involved in this killing, says police.

On one hand restaurants are obstructing people’s movement while on the other hand snatchers are posing a security threat.

Architect Iqbal Habib had designed the development project of Dhanmondi Lake.

Expressing his anger to Prothom Alo he said, Dhanmondi Lake has been turned into a business establishment altering its characteristics and this is totally unacceptable.  

Local councilor Rafiqul Islam has also acknowledged that Dhanmondi Lake is losing its originality because of the city corporation’s whimsicality.

Leasing out restaurants to ruling party men is causing chaos there. They were supposed to set up 10 chairs only whereas they have put 200 chairs.

In the 2022-23 fiscal year, south city corporation from the leases at Dhanmondi Lake has earned a little over Tk 29.3 million (2.93 crore), which amounts to only 0.35 per cent of their total revenue (2021-22).

They cannot endanger the environment of a historical place like Dhanmondi Lake for this little bit of financial benefit. No matter how much the city corporation defends themselves it cannot be covered up.

Not only Dhanmondi Lake, south city corporation is about to put several other open spaces in the city on lease. Bahadur Shah Park in Old Dhaka has been leased for food stalls.

As per the lease terms, there was supposed to be a three-wheeled ‘food van’ there. But the contractor has installed a permanent structure there.

Awami League government continues to violate the law they themselves had created in 2000 for the protection of open spaces.

It had been stated in the law that places identified as open spaces, parks and natural reservoirs cannot be categorised otherwise.

Dhaka South City Corporation must realise that if the lake is turned into a trade center, the difference that still exists between Dhanmondi and Motijheel will vanish as well.

We hope they will refrain from approving such leases, which pose as a threat to the lake.

Let action be taken against those who have already constructed illegal structures. It is now left to see when the illegal structures will be removed.