'I have informed DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon about the matter three or four times, but no actions have been taken'
A group of politically influential men are running illegal businesses across a large stretch of Dhanmondi residential area, in complete violation of the city’s development plan for this historic neighbourhood.
This racket, whose two key figures are the local ward councillor and the son of a prominent bureaucrat-turned politician from the ruling party, has set up street hawkers on footpaths, set up shops on the lakeside and occupied a large area around those shops with chairs and tables, obstructing movement.
The entire open space surrounding the Rabindra Sarobor has been turned into a commercial spot, with a small market occupying the footpaths in the morning and in the evening, the whole area is blocked by people thronging the illegal food stalls.
In 2011, the government took on a development project covering approximately 98 acres of the Dhanmondi Lake area, from road 32 to road 6, in order to give a facelift to the greenery and make the area more attractive to a wider range of city dwellers.
The initiative was undertaken by the Local Government Ministry and the Dhaka City Corporation. Later, the ministry handed the project over to the 16-Engineering Construction Battalion of Bangladesh Army for implementation, with Vitti Sthapati Brindo Limited, a private architecture firm, as the consultants.
The plan however, allows for only two stalls on the periphery of the open-air theatre of Rabindra Sarobor.
The Zone Office 1 of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) is responsible for maintaining the Dhanmondi residential area, home to the Bangabandhu residence where the nation’s independence was decided upon.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, officials of the zonal office said the lake and its surrounding area is divided into eight sectors and leased to commercial entities. Of these, sectors 3 and 7 were leased to Dynamic Food Court Limited, owned by one Mirza Shahrukhi Jalil Tushar in 2013.
The Dhaka Tribune found that even though he was permitted to have only two stalls there, with the help of Ward 15 Councillor Zakir Hossain Shopon, Tushar has been running a bazar in the area that even spills out of the park’s boundaries.
His lease expired in 2016, but these businesses are operating in full swing.
DSCC sources told the Dhaka Tribune Tushar had obtained the lease with the help of a former senior DSCC official, and even paid only partially for it. The sources said he owed DSCC almost Tk1 crore.
“The agreement between DSCC and Dynamic Food Court was signed in April 2013 and ended in March 2016. The owner has not renewed the agreement, neither has he released the public land for further lease,” an official of DSCC said, seeking anonymity.
Iqbal Habib, director of Vitti, also said that that except for the two permanent establishments, all the mushrooming temporary shops in that area were in violation of the development plan.
An invasion of shops and hawkers
Apart from the fast food shops, the occupiers have also set up a temporary parking lot in the area. There are also tea stalls and almost a hundred vendors selling fish, kitchenware, clothes and footwear.
This is causing severe discomfort to morning walkers, pedestrians and vehicles alike, creating unbearable tailbacks in Dhanmondi, especially during the peak morning rush hour.
Siam, a resident of Dhanmondi, said: “The illegal occupations of the lakeside open space mostly surrounds of the Rabindra Sarobar, footpaths and portion of the roads at the same area lead to unbearable traffic when local residents among others come out home for daily work and morning walk.”
He blamed that a number of leaders of local Awami League men and few police officials are involved the illegal business.
A hawker who sells clothes and shoes on the footpath said all the vendors there pay a daily fee to lineman Shah Alam, who represents the two politicians. Everyday they have to pay Tk300 to Shah Alam and Tk50 to police.
All attempts to contact Tushar and Shah Alam failed.
Zakir Hossain Shopon, councillor of Dhaka South City Corporation Ward 15, however, denied his involvement in the illegal occupation and extortion.
Vitti Director Iqbal Habib said: “Before the Dhanmondi lake development project, there were a large number of illegal structures on the lakeside. We proposed that they be evicted. But due to a writ petition, finally we could build only two establishments there, one for fast food and another a resting place for morning and evening walkers.
“I have informed DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon about the matter three or four times, but no actions have been taken,” he added.
Rajuk has spent a year wreaking havoc on Dhaka’s commercial establishments through eviction in the city’s posh residential areas, including Dhanmondi, without any plan or proffered alternatives for the businesses, but illegal street hawkers and vendors have largely been ignored.
When contacted, Abu Jafar Md Saiful Hannan, Rajuk official responsible for Dhanmondi Zone 5, said the city corporation was the concerned authority for footpaths and roads.
DSCC Chief Executive Officer Khan Mohammad Bilal said they had been informed about the matter and steps would be taken very soon.
Mayor Sayeed Khokon could not be reached for comments.