A seminar organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) reveals the dilapidated condition of roads in the capital city, at a time when school and college students have been demonstrating in demand of safe roads in Dhaka.

Once 80 per cent of the population in agriculture-based Bangladesh used to live in villages. But owing to rapid industrialisation, the population has been increasing fast in cities. This industrialisation is not balanced though. Almost all of the developmental work is being done in the capital and cities around it. At the same time, the administrative structure of uni-centered Bangladesh is Dhaka-centric. Though headquarters of a few government departments were outside Dhaka earlier, all of these have been shifted to Dhaka now. As a result, people are not only coming to Dhaka in search of work, but also for their daily affairs.

According to a report of Policy Research Institute (PRI), the total population of Bangladesh has crossed 163 million (16 crore 30 lakh). Of this, 18.9 million (1 crore 89 lakh) are staying in Dhaka. Around 32 per cent of city dwellers in the country have been living in the capital. Bangladesh has only five cities with population over 1 million (10 lakh). On the other hand, the number of such cities in China is 102, in India 54, in Indonesia 14, in Pakistan 10 and in Vietnam seven.

Dhaka city does not have the infrastructure and communication system required for this swelling population. As a result, traffic jams are a common feature here. A PRI research said that the country has been losing 2.5 per cent of its GDP every year to Dhaka traffic jam. This loss soars to 5.8 per cent if indirect losses are included. The traffic on Dhaka roads is 30-40 per cent more than its capacity. An expert recently remarked that the traffic system in Dhaka is in ICU. The lead report of The Daily Star on 3 December read ‘Regulating Public Transport: Going from bad to worse’.

On the a whole, Dhaka city has become unbearable for dwelling and communication. What is the way out? The government has been constructing metro rail and taken initiatives to set up a subway to curb traffic jams. The population in Dhaka will increase by the time the construction work is completed. And, people will move not only on the roads, they will be needing housing facilities, hospitals and educational institutions. Locked in by water bodies from three sides, neither the Dhaka city nor the areas around it have any place required for such infrastructure.

In this context, the government has to rethink the Dhaka development plan. People are thronging to Dhaka just because of job opportunities. Though we talk about ‘Digital Bangladesh’, the administrative structure is so centralised that the school and college teachers have to come to Dhaka even for their salary-related papers.

A long time ago Chattogram was declared the commercial capital but people from there too are thronging to Dhaka for lack of administrative facilities. Development activities are very little in cities other than Dhaka. Civic facilities are also inadequate. As a result everyone heads to Dhaka. This is not a good sign for economy and the people. In this context, we must shift our focus to balanced instead of Dhaka-centric development.