Despite repeated media reports and public concerns over the occupation of the city’s open space Muktangan, the authorities concerned have yet to take steps to reclaim it from grabbers.
Under Dhaka South City Corporation’s (DSCC) nose, a group of unscrupulous businessmen, backed by a section of ruling party men and DSCC officials, has turned the space into a parking lot for commercial purposes, sources told the Dhaka Tribune.
The 83-decimal space, which was once designated for political meetings and rallies, is to the east of Bangladesh Secretariat.
Dhaka Microbus and Car Owners Association is running car rental businesses at Muktangan while City Cab Owners Association has occupied a considerable portion of a road near the space by setting up a parking lot.
On an average, the grabbers charge each vehicle Tk2,000 a month with an advance fee of Tk10,000 for using the parking lots, the sources said.
During a recent visit, this correspondent found a boundary wall in front of the park dismantled and around 100 vehicles parked there.
The vehicle owners built a tin-roofed office and a mosque without taking permission from the authorities. A local unit office of the Awami League has recently been built as well.
It was also found that a public toilet is being used mostly by hawkers of nearby areas, with commuters not getting access to it.
In 2011, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) banned public gatherings there as part of their security measures for Bangladesh Secretariat.
The ban was imposed since such gatherings near busy roads and intersections were contributing to gridlocks in the area, police reasoned.
A DSCC official preferring to be anonymous told the Dhaka Tribune that the city corporation and DMP authorities were well informed of the illegal occupancy.
He said the DMP would not bother to reclaim Muktangan since Special Branch of police set up a “temporary” outpost inside the park, and its passenger shed was now being used by Paltan police.
“On top of that the city corporation has never gone for a tougher move to reclaim it owing to an influence of muscle power,” the official conceded.
He also accused the then BNP-Jamaat government of giving the space to the vehicle owners in exchange for a large amount of money.
When contacted, Officer-in-Charge of Paltan police station Rafiqul Islam denied using the park, saying: “The outpost was set up by the Special Branch, not by Paltan police.”
Mallik Faqrul Islam, deputy inspector general of City Special Branch, said he has recently been posted there and was not aware of the outpost’s legality.
“I will discuss the matter with the officials concerned,” he added.
Ratan, who supervises the illegal parking spaces, declined to make any comment about their businesses.
However, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said he would take immediate steps to free the public park.
Echoing the mayor, Mostaba Zaman, councillor of Ward 13, said stern actions would be taken against the grabbers.