The ongoing Tk265 crore project will help the government generate revenues
The felling of the trees at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan that recently created massive outrage is not precisely for restoring the monuments of the Liberation War but to build some structures that will serve the public interest.
Under the third phase of the ground’s development works, the government has plans to build seven food courts, a flower market, a children’s park, public toilets and an underground parking lot to draw more visitors and ensure amenities for them at an estimated budget of Tk265.44 crore.
Officials say that they hope to start construction work soon after levelling a part of the ground when some trees need to be cut off and that they will plant trees to recover from the loss.
The historic ground located along with Dhaka University campus and the High Court is a gathering place for the citizens to breathe and relax in this overcrowded Dhaka, as well as used by political parties to organize massive rallies. The south side of the ground is used by Bangla Academy to hold its annual book fair.
The third phase of the project, titled “Swadhinata Stambha Construction Project in Dhaka”, began in January 2018.
“Bureaucrats added the idea of setting up restaurants and adding commercial components to the project without consulting the matter with experts,” Iqbal Habib, a renowned architect and joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon, told Dhaka Tribune.
“These commercial components were not included in the basic plan that was shared with us,” he added.
Besides these commercial structures, the project also includes the March 7 Speech Memorial, December 16 Surrender Memorial and Indira Mancha Memorial as main features. But these structures will be built on the existing open spaces of the park which do not require the felling of trees.
The Liberation War Affairs Ministry, the Department of Public Works and the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) are implementing the third phase of the project.
The Department of Architecture has designed all the structures to be built at Suhrawardy Udyan, previously known as Ramna Race Course Maidan and Ramna Gymkhana.
As per the plan, the commercial structures will be leased out to contractors to generate revenue. There are allegations that many influential people have already started lobbying to lease these spaces.
Are they essential?
“We are building seven kiosks with toilet facilities for men, women and the disabled at seven entry-exit points of Suhrawardy Udyan. It will also help to shade the wayfarers during rain so that it is included in the project,” Asifur Rahman Bhuiyan, superintending architect at the Department of Architecture, told Dhaka Tribune.
He threw a question asking the reporter where it was possible to build these structures without felling trees.
“We have tried to implement all the techniques to save the trees. A few trees that have to be cut down include eucalyptus trees which are not environment friendly.”
He claimed that a rumour had been spread on social media about a huge number of trees being cut down.
“Photos of trees marked with the sign ‘X’ are seen in social media saying that they were marked to be fell down. But we did put the sign on any tree. Actually, environmental activists gave these marks on trees to indicate that these trees should not be cut down,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Liberation War Affairs Ministry in a statement admitted that some trees had been felled at the Suhrawardy Udyan as part of the project. But at the same time, it said, around 1,000 new trees would be planted there.
“Planting trees is a good sign but the old trees that have been cut down were a safe haven for various species of birds and animals,” said Mintu Rizvi, an environmental activist.
He demanded that the government bring to book the perpetrators involved in destroying the ecology to build commercial spaces.
DSCC Mayor Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said that they were developing a thematic park for the children, “which does not have anything to do with cutting down trees.”
Never-ending construction work
Before executing the third phase, the government executed the first two phases of the “Swadhinata Stambha Construction Project in Dhaka” at a cost of Tk262.88 crore.
Starting in 1998, the two phases took around two decades to complete.
The main attraction of the first phase was the “Eternal Flame” and an approach plaza with an underground museum. The government spent Tk81.27 crore on these two structures.
The 150-feet tall glass-made “Swadhinata Stambha” was the main component of the second phase, completed in 2014. It was built at a cost of Tk181.61 crore.
The third phase was scheduled to be completed by December 2019, but less than 50% work has so far been done.
The government has plans to complete the third phase by December this year.
“There are many reasons for the delay of the project,” said Liberation War Affair Minister AKM Mozammel Haque.
“But the construction work is now progressing quickly as it is scheduled to be inaugurated by this December to celebrate the Victory Day on the occasion of golden jubilee Bangladesh’s independence,” he added.