Since its opening in April 2014, the Sheikh Russel Shishutosh Angan in Dhaka’s Kalabagan area has been a haven for drug addicts and “public romantics.”
For the past three years, residents of Dhanmondi and Kalabagan areas have been complaining in vain about the state of the area.
In the first year, locals were even not allowed entry into the park, yet sex workers and drug addicts had free reign. Over the next couple of years, though the park was opened to public, it was hardly fit for parents to take their children to. Currently, the nearby residents continue struggling with essentially the same issues.
The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), however, has consistently ignored complaints and continues to pass the blame.
In 2011, the government chalked out a beautification budget of Tk24.53 crore to build a park on approximately 39.2 hectares of land, from Dhanmondi Road 32 to Road 6.
Constructed by the 16 Engineering Construction Battalion under Bangladesh Army, in consultation with Bhitti Sthapati Brindo, the park was then handed over to DSCC in June 2014.
Named after the youngest brother of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the park was supposed to provide an escape from the chaos of urban life for the people living in Dhanmondi, Kalabagan, Shukrabad, Sobhanbag and other nearby areas.
In 2014, the Dhaka Tribune had spoken to the residents of the nearby areas and learned that apart from drug addicts, sex workers would frequent the park at night and when locals tried to take their children to the park, a security guard would stop them from entering saying the DSCC had not given permission for public entry.
When asked about this situation, the then CEO of DSCC Mohammad Ansar Ali Khan had said: “We are planning to hand over the park to a private company for maintenance.”
Subsequently, in 2015, the Dhaka Tribune did a follow-up on the status of the park.
Locals were still alleging that they were being denied entry into the park and criticising the DSCC for their slack security and monitoring.
The correspondent had also found a group of teenagers smoking cannabis in the security guard’s room.
Ansar, the then CEO of DSCC, had repeated: “We just appointed a private company to take care of the park.”
He, however, had refused to divulge the company’s name.
This year, another correspondent was sent to see if the repeated complaints from the locals had managed to impact the DSCC’s involvement in the park.
However, the negligence and apathy of the park authorities was still heavily evident in the overgrown bushes, damaged rides, the dirty, garbage ridden lake, the broken greenhouse gate and the lack of security guards.
While walking around, the correspondent also encountered a group of people smoking cannabis, who said the park was their favourite spot because there was no one to monitor their activities there.
According to Harunur Rashid, a Kalabagan resident, drug addicts, homeless people and sex workers were the main park visitors.
“We cannot take our children there or even go there for an evening walk because people often engage in overt public displays of affection, which is rather disconcerting. This is not the kind of environment a park should have,” he explained.
“Safety is also a major concern for us,” added Kalabagan resident Treepti Hassan.
When questioned about these complaints, DSCC Chief Estate Officer Mohammed Kamrul Islam Chowdury effectively avoided providing a straight answer.
“A number of government organizations, including the land department and the engineering department, look after such projects. We alone are not in charge,” he said, adding: “The government may soon be taking on a mega project to modernise 31 parks and children parks in Dhaka. Once the proposal is approved, these problems will be solved.”