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Dhaka: Four centuries of uncontrolled growth

  • Published at 08:28 pm October 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:04 pm October 6th, 2017
Dhaka: Four centuries of uncontrolled growth
In the 410 years that Dhaka has operated as the administrative and commercial centre of the region, the city's unplanned growth has defied all plans that the regimes and administrations have stipulated for its development. History shows that plans have always been formulated for Dhaka's development, beginning with the British era. But the plans have always been largely ignored. Sir Patrick Geddes, one of the pioneers of modern urban planning, created the first master plan for Dhaka's development in 1910, putting a great emphasis on the preservation of its canal networks. Although the areas developed after his plan remain some of the most picturesque areas of the city, his hopes for integrating the water spaces with the built environment of the city were mostly defied. Now, despite being the capital of an independent nation for 46 years, no plan for Dhaka's growth and organisation has been entirely successful. More than half a dozen rules and acts were enacted for Dhaka's planning, but none of them have been properly implemented. Urban planners say that at this point, decentralisation is the only answer to making this city habitable.

Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune


The government is currently in the process of formulating the second Detailed Area Plan, which will outline the development of the city and its surrounding areas for the time period of 2016-2035. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk) has been the sole responsible authority for city planning since its establishment in 1987 under the Ministry of Housing and Public Works. At its inception, it covered a total area of 590 square miles or 152,809 hectares. Rajuk replaced the Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) which was established in 1956 and covered an area of 320 square miles or 82,880 hectares. The core aim of Rajuk was to develop, improve, extend and manage Dhaka city and its peripheries through a process of proper development planning and control. But there are several other authorities that manage various aspects of the city, often with overlapping or conflicting jurisdiction. For example the various water bodies in the area are under the control of Dhaka North and South city corporations, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and the district administration offices of Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj. The constant waterlogging during monsoon is one example of how failing to abide by the plans has had a disastrous impact on the city. In a recent initiative, two research firms were enlisted to find a solution to the waterlogging. In their findings, they have said that there is no alternative to freeing up the rivers and flood flow zones that surround Dhaka. But that seems to be near impossible. Countless wetlands around the city are now completely filled up. The twin studies pointed to Ashulia, Banasree, Aftabnagar, Bashundhara, Meradia, Baunia, Badda, Amin Bazar and Hatirjheel as examples of areas which were filled up, leading to increased waterlogging in the city.

Failures of the DAP

The government is formulating an updated Detailed Area Plan (DAP) for the period of 2016 to 2035. Authorities say considering the rapid growth of population and buildings in Dhaka, the plan has been extended to cover more area. However, experts say that very little in the last DAP, which covered the period of 2010-2015, has been properly implemented. A government-appointed expert committee, headed by the civil engineer Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, identified the shortcomings of the last DAP in 2013. “It cannot be said that the old DAP was entirely successful. A large number of land developers continue to fill up flood flow zones and grab the banks of the four rivers around Dhaka,” said Prof Jamilur. “The DAP remains far from being implemented due to negligence of the authorities concerned. The land developers are using land by violating all Rajuk plans and laws,” the expert added. Urban Planner Prof Sarwar Jahan said a large number of land developers have already filled up most of the DAP designated wetlands and flood flow zones. “This land-grabbing is behind the constant waterlogging and destruction of ecology in and around the city,” he said.

Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune


Rajuk says the aim of the new DAP is to cover all the loopholes in the old one. But experts are not so hopeful. DAP is coupled with the Dhaka Structure Plan, which outlines what structures the government will build under the DAP. Four private companies were given the task of preparing the Dhaka Structure Plan 2016-2035 in 2013, and it is currently under review by a technical committee, headed by the Rajuk Member of Planning. One expert has called the plan “a real estate developer’s wishful road map for increasing buildable land at any cost.” Rajuk Deputy Director (Town planning) Md Ashraful Islam said the inter-ministerial committee had received about 2,100 applications seeking changes in layout in different places of the new DAP and around 155 of them had been approved. The committee wants to complete a draft by this December and hold a public hearing within January-February next year. Housing and Public Works Minister Engineer Mosharraf Hossain says as per the prime minister's instruction, the government will work to save the water bodies in and outside the Dhaka city any cost. The new DAP is likely to come into force from 2018.

The city of plans

After the Mughals conquered territories in Bengal, Delhi's appointed governor Islam Khan made Dhaka the capital of the province in 1610 and developed the city as a business hub along with defense headquarters. The British East India Company took control of Dhaka in 1757 and made it a regional trading centre and market. Sir Patrick Geddes was commissioned to make a development plan for Dhaka city in 1906. Sir Patrick proposed an outline for the development of the city, emphasising the protection of natural greenery in the Ramna area and the widening of roads for increased traffic. After becoming the capital of East Pakistan in 1947 the landscape of Dhaka city underwent rapid change. The city was expanded northward and new zones were planned – Dhanmondi as a posh neighbourhood, Azimpur and Motijheel for homes of government employees, an industrial area in Tejgaon, New Market as a shopping centre and Shahbagh for hotels. The next master plan for Dhaka was prepared in 1959 by Dhaka Improvement Trust under the provisions of the Town Improvement Act 1953. The plan covered roughly 220 square miles or 56,980 hectares and later on extended to 320 square miles or 82,880 hectares. The plan was made by the British firm Minoprio, Spencely and Macfarlane. The objective of this master plan was to establish planning principles rather than to lay down a scheme. It identified two main problems for the development of the city: shortage of land above flood level on which to build and the congestion in the old central area of Dhaka. After the independence, almost all of the earlier assumptions of the plan failed and the city largely started to grow spontaneously, Rajuk officials said. Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan (DMDP) 1995- 2015, was drawn up in 1995 to cover 590 square miles or 1,52,809 hectares of area. It provided planning guidelines, techniques, standard, development control procedures and provisions of physical and social services. When the DAP was introduced, it covered an area stretching from Gazipur City Corporation to the North, to Dhaleshawri River to the south, Bangshi and Dhaleshawri River to the west, and Shitalakkhya and Meghna River to the east. The area includes four city corporations, four municipalities and 72 Union Parishads in three districts – Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj. Former Dhaka University professor and urban planner Nazrul Islam said: “None of the city plans in the past have been properly followed. I just want to say the city's hazards like waterlogging will increase day by day if the DAP and other city plans and acts are not implemented properly in the future.” The expert said that one thing that had always been missing from plans for Dhaka was decentralisation. Other cities need to be built in order to reduce the pressure on the city, he said. Sarwar Jahan echoed this thought. Moving industry, manufacturing and business out of Dhaka was the key to solving many of the capital's problems, he said.
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