Dhaka is now the world's most polluted city.

In order to bring air pollution under control, the city corporation has procured, and is using, two machines that water trees and spray the road at the same time. An agreement has been signed with a private firm to set up instruments that measure air pollution. The firm will fit these instruments to 234 lampposts of the city. This will determine where, why and how much air pollution there is at any given time. However, it is not being possible to reduce air pollution in the city due to the various development projects underway. The contractors involved in the development work are responsible for controlling the dust. They are not carrying out their responsibility properly.

The city corporation and all other government organisations are more interested in procurements for various projects. The Tk 2 million (Tk 20 lakh) 'push button' project for road crossing came to no use.

This was a small-scale pilot project. The plan to set up this facility in other places too has been halted for the time being. But efforts are on to encourage the people to use this. Unless the people come forward, it is hard to carry out any task. And if any project is taken up simply for money, I will prevent that myself.

In the ward where the Nagar Bhaban is located, 36 companies are involved in garbage collection from the residences in the areas. It is the same in the other wards too. Many have got this work by virtue of their political connections. Why hasn't waste management been brought under control this year again?

This is an extremely challenging issue. Everyone is involved. However, a garbage collection regulation was approved at the last board meeting of the corporation. This work will commence from after the coming qurbani Eid. One firm will work in four wards. The rates will be fixed too. Then there will be no disorder in waste management and this system will gradually be carried out in all wards.

Why can't the city corporation bring about coordination among the various organisations so that roads are not dug up randomly at any time and any place?

Ever since taking over responsibility, I have opposed such random digging up of roads, any time and any place. This came to a halt for quite some time. The project to provide new water connections of Dhaka WASA to residences had also been halted. But given the circumstances, WASA has had to be finally given permission to dig up the road. They will dig up 1,200km of road. Now it may be asked why there had been no coordination. Why had WASA not laid the pipes before? Why are they doing the digging work up after the road has been constructed. The answer is, the ADB-funded WASA project's term is of four years. So if the work is not carried out in this time, the money will be sent back. And if WASA is not allowed to work, the people will be deprived of drinking water.

The people simply want the footpaths not to be broken and dilapidated. Why can't the city corporation even ensure this?

There are no broken or damaged footpaths or roads in various sectors of Uttara and Agargaon now. If there are broken footpaths anywhere else, the city residents can complain on the 'Shobar Dhaka' app. The corporation will take speedy measures to carry out repairs. I request the people to kindly inform us of their complaints by means of this app. If everyone plays a responsible role from their respective positions, it is easier to solve the problems. In the five months since the 'Shobar Dhaka' app was launched (till 13 June), 3,257 complaints have been submitted and 3,105 have been resolved. The corporation has resolved 95 per cent of the complaints.

How much more time will the corporation need to permanently remove illegal encroachment of the footpaths?

Dhaka is a city of encroachment and pollution. In this city, some encroach with muscle power and some out of helplessness. There is no point in denying this. Dhaka sees an influx of people after every natural disaster. There is no point in clearing up the footpaths of encroachment just for a day. Proper and sustainable management is required to free the footpaths and roads of illegal occupation. A plan is being drawn up about this along with urban planners. We are taking up an experimental plan of holiday markets for hawkers. They will be registered and given tokens. They will carry out their trade on the roadside in phases and won't have to pay toll to anyone. It will be inhuman to evict anyone from the footpaths during this corona situation. We are advancing towards a sustainable solution so that the footpaths are not occupied once again after the eviction drive.

You became the mayor directly from being a business leader. Is it difficult to carry out any eviction drive without political clout?

Political leaders have assisted me in all the eviction drives that I have carried out. In Uttara, a canal was filled up to construct a multi-storey building. I retrieved the land and restored the canal again. In Pallabi, the Bihari camp residents had built a structure on the main road. I have removed that. In Bhashantek, a building at the Pocket Gate intersection created traffic jams, causing 40 minutes to an hour delay in crossing the area. I summoned the owner of the building, had the building demolished and cleared the road. An extended part of a councillor's six-storey building there was also demolished. The city corporation is endeavouring to remove illegal installations and clear up pollution.

Political identity makes no difference when it comes to illegal encroachment. There is no place for trucks and buses in this city. Where will they go? These matters were not taken into consideration when this city was being built.

No matter what you do, you will always be compared to the former mayor Annisul Huq. Is this an extra pressure on you?

Anyone can draw comparisons, but I am working according to plan. I believe the people are standing by me, supporting my work and so I do not feel any pressure at all. It is my duty to complete the work and plans left unfinished by Annisul Huq. After Annisul Huq passed away, the responsibility of bus route rationalisation was given to the Dhaka South City Corporation mayor. Meetings have been held and are being held. The progress which should have been made has been slowed due to coronavirus. That is the real picture.

When the monsoon began, you pledged to allocate Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh) to the councillors of each ward to prevent waterlogging. Why was this allocation not made before the rains started?

The corporation is doing all sorts of work on waterlogging. There is no waterlogging in areas which had been seen waterlogging last year. But waterlogging has appeared in different areas this year. I have been active about this since the onset of the rains. The officials have been identifying the new locations of waterlogging. These do no match with the reports of last year. For example, water has been accumulating in Road 13 of Baridhara. It was found out that people had been blocking the channel for water to drain out. We are gaining all sorts of practical knowledge about these matters. Problems are cropping up in new areas. This year water has accumulated in 103 areas. Work is being done in 10 hotspots in this regard. But I am not satisfied with the corporation's performance in addressing the waterlogging problem. Work is being done so that within the next two years, rain water will drain away within an hour in any area where it may accumulate.

There are hardly any civic amenities, even roads, in the newly added 18 wards. What have you done to develop these wards in the past one year?

Planning is required for the development of these wards. There is a master plan. This master plan includes details of the present condition of these wards and what is needed in the different areas of these wards. Development work will begin in these wards from the start of the new financial year.

People look towards the corporation to resolve the mosquito menace. Will the people be protected from mosquitos by the corporation's present system?

For the first time in our history, I have filed cases against the civil aviation, railway and Milk Vita authorities for the detection of mosquito larva in their premises. The health department of the corporation last year carried out six combing operations to destroy Aedes mosquitos. There are considerations of giving a private firm, on experimental basis, the responsibility of destroying mosquitoes in one of the city corporation's 10 zones. For 21 years a particular ring was in control of supplying the anti-mosquito insecticide to the corporation. This monopoly has been broken and the insecticide changed. There is no use taking measures against the adult mosquito. The larva must be destroyed. Unless this can be done, the mosquito menace will never be resolved. The corporation is doing its best, but this cannot be successful with efforts by the corporation alone. The city people will have to suffer from mosquito bites just a little more. An operation is being carried out to destroy the breeding grounds.

Are the city corporation services free of corruption?

The 'Shobar Dhaka' app has been launched to free the corporation of corruption. It is the responsibility of the citizens to complain on the app about any corruption they see. All-out efforts are being made to free the city corporation of corruption.

* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir