Narayanganj is one of the most important river ports and commercial cities of the country. In the sixties, Narayanganj was the country's third industrial town, following Dhaka and Chattogram. Known in the past as 'Dundee of the East', this city had been the hub of the country's jute mills and jute trade. While the jute industry has diminished over the years, the readymade garment industry has kept Narayanganj as buzzing as ever.
The Narayanganj municipality was set up in 1876. Then in 2011, the old Narayanganj and Kadamrasul municipality merged to make the Narayanganj the seventh largest city corporation of the country. This city has now arrived at its third election. The Narayanganj city corporation election is to be held on 16 January.
The entire country had watched with keen interest the 'Narayanganj city election 2011'. Awami League's 'rebel' candidate Selina Hayat Ivy won that election, clinching 65 per cent of the votes, that is, 180,048 votes in total. Her rival, Awami League candidate Shameem Osman, won 78,705 votes (28 per cent). In 2011, BNP had taken a serious strategic step by withdrawing candidature at the last moment. This went in favour of the 'rebel' candidate Selina Hayat Ivy.
In the second election held in 2016, Ivy contested as the Awami League candidate, winning the election with 174,602 votes. Her main rival that time was a little-known BNP leader, lawyer Sakhawat Hossain. He won 96,700 votes. In 2011, a total of 70 per cent of the votes had been cast. In 2016 this went down to 62 per cent.
After 2014 elections all over the country saw a crisis, particularly in voter turnout, but Narayanganj remained a shining exception. Even in 2022, the Narayanganj election still remains an exception compared to the rest of the country. While there are heated debates during the campaign, the campaigning remains normal and peaceful.
Water supplied by WASA is no longer drinkable. This challenge must be addressed.
The two major contestants in this election are Awami League's Selina Hayat Ivy and BNP's Taimur Alam Khandakar. While not contesting in the election himself, the member of parliament Shameem Osman remains a pivotal factor. His shadow still looms large over Ivy's campaign.
While all discussions centre on the two candidates and the shadow of Shameem Osman, nothing much is heard about the other five mayoral candidates, the councillors of the 27 wards and the women councillors of the reserved seats. There are no discussions about clean water in Narayanganj, pollution of the river Shitalakkhya, waste management, traffic congestion that brings communications to a halt, unplanned urban development and such issues.
Many challenges await Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) in the days ahead. The six main challenges are:
1. Supplying clean water for all the people of this city. Water supplied by WASA is no longer drinkable. This challenge must be addressed.
2. The rivers Dhaleswari and Shitalakkhya must be freed of pollution though joint efforts of the people and the administration of the three districts Gazipur, Narsingdi and Narayanganj. Even after treatment, the water of Dhalerswari and Shitalakkhya is not fit for consumption or use.
3. The ETP of the mill and factories in this region are not all functioning or not capable of treating industrial waste. Weaknesses and negligence in environmental management is steadily driving Shitalakkhya to becoming a dead river. Keeping Shitalakkhya alive is a big challenge for this region.
For the sake of well-balanced development in Narayanganj, the Narayanganj shipping authorities, the department of environment, the office of the deputy commissioner, the industries ministry, the water development board, Dhaka WASA, RAJUK -- all should work in close collusion with NCC
4. The present 72km divided Narayanganj must be given a proper size. Research carried out by experts show that if this city is expanded to at least 150km, it will get scope for providing services properly, funding, communication and transport and all areas. It will be a regional communication hub. It can link up with MRT, BRT and the subway to be part of the regional communication hub.
At present while many union parishads to the west receive services from the city corporation, these are not within the city corporation's jurisdiction. Even the Narayanganj deputy commissioner's office is outside of the city corporation. This city corporation cannot become powerful and effective if restricted to such a small area. So the city's size must be justifiably expanded.
5. The city corporation for long has been suffering from a shortage of workforce. While it has approval for 683 employees, it is limping along with a 140 strong workforce.
6. The councillors are not fully involved in the corporation's policy making. They must be involved in this. The corporations regular meetings must be vibrant, the standing committees active and the councils must be at the centre of all discussions.
For the sake of well-balanced development in Narayanganj, the Narayanganj shipping authorities, the department of environment, the office of the deputy commissioner, the industries ministry, the water development board, Dhaka WASA, RAJUK -- all should work in close collusion with NCC.
BIWTA must work for demarcating river boundaries, river territory and protecting river water. The environment ministry and industries ministry must work for the control of industrial waste pollution. RAJUK must give priority to NCC regarding DAP and other urban planning issues. The local government must extend its full cooperation in these matters. No matter who is elected in the final run, the administration must neutrally serve public interests.
I hope that the future mayor and councillors together work to tackle these six challenges and contribute towards building a beautiful and livable city.
* Dr Tofail Ahmed is a local government and governance expert. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir