Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Mirpur Town Hall now a garbage depot

  • 20 years have passed since the demolition 
  • Around 3,500 shops were knocked down 
Update : 20 Mar 2024, 12:58 PM

Once a vibrant centre of cultural exchange and commerce, Mirpur Town Hall stands today as a stark reminder of the past. What was once a beacon of cultural activity in the locality, has been reduced to a mere dumping ground.

There were also a great number of shops surrounding it, each teeming with life and enterprise.

"It was everything I grew up with. Beginning in 1986, I used to go to the market with my father. But it all ended with one letter in 2003. Eviction with just a week's notice had taken away everything. We couldn’t even figure out where to go and what to do. The demolition began with goods locked inside the shops,” says bookseller Sujan, who had a shop in the market at Mirpur Section 10.

The Town Hall market was like a vast field. There were about 3,500 shops, including printing presses, jewellery shops, grocery stores, and bookstores. The rent was around Tk3,000 to Tk4,000 per shop. Some people owned three shops, while many had two. There were 18 to 19 bookshops, he recalls.

“Since the demolition, 20 years have passed. Most of us now do business on footpaths. We do not have the money to restart business in a proper shop at a market.

“Now this place has become a garbage depot. Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) has taken one part of this place, and Habib Group has taken another. There was another issue of private ownership relating to the market, which was settled after long litigation. Hundreds of traders were put in trouble during the demolition,” the man went on, his voice quivering with emotion.

“Many went out of business. Some set up shops behind Shah Ali Plaza, and others chose the footpath. Some of us are setting up shops in front of the swimming pool by paying Tk100 per day,” he continued. 

Another bookseller, who did not want to be named, said the place will be transformed into a big market that will have a cinema hall as well, but there was a mosque there that escaped the demolition. Two markets have been constructed on either side of the place. One is FS Square, and the other market is yet to be named as it is incomplete. 

The main part of the town hall is occupied as a garbage depot. One portion is being used as an office of the city corporation.

Photo: Ahadul Karim Khan/Dhaka Tribune

There are several vans and trucks—used for collecting garbage—outside the gate of the depot. One portion of the market space has been used as a parking lot. There is a truck workers’ association office at one corner. A little further inside is the region-4 office of the DNCC.

Futile promises

From 1978 to 2003, this market was very popular in the area. Many compared it with New Market and Nilkhet on Mirpur Road. It was constructed under the patronage of the then-Dhaka divisional commissioner and the supervision of the Mirpur Development Committee. It was also a hub of cultural activity.

Considered risk-prone, the hall was demolished in 2003. In 2005, the then city mayor, Sadek Hossain Khoka, announced the construction of a modern theatre hall at the same location. Later, the city corporation signed a contract with a private developer company to build a market there. 

Although the process of constructing the market started, it stopped in the face of a movement by the cultural bodies of the area. But in the end, the movement carried out by Sommilito Sangskritik Jote, the Group Theatre Federation, and Pathnatok Parishad did not last long.

In 2007, National Professor Kabir Chowdhury demanded that a modern theatre be built in the empty space of the former Town Hall. He proposed that the theatre hall be named after Shaheed Munier Chowdhury.

Then, in 2013, cultural activists, on their own initiative, built an open stage in the empty space. But the garbage trucks have made it unsuitable for cultural shows.

In August 2022, a theatre organization called Opera once again held a rally demanding a theatre hall there. At the time, the authorities concerned said that they would talk to the Department of Social Welfare in this regard. But the promise has not been kept in the last two years.

In September of that year, the movement gained momentum when Mirpur Cultural Unity Forum started holding cultural activities there.

A senior activist of the forum, on condition of anonymity, said there was a meeting with the mayor of the Dhaka North City Corporation in November who promised to construct a stage at the place of the town hall in 3 years. The activist said the mayor asked the representatives of the forum to keep in touch with his two representatives. "On that day, Golam Quddus and Ahkam Ullah were present in the meeting at Nagar Bhaban as seniors apart from the forum's committee members. I was the only one among juniors."

"On January 31, 2023, the day Mirpur was freed [after the Liberation War], the mayor again publicly announced that he would construct a stage there. One year and two months have passed, but they probably did not keep in touch properly. No one gives a satisfactory answer when asked what they are doing about it... we have asked for a meeting so that we can ask questions, but we have not been able to do that yet. There is no discussion anywhere."

Meanwhile, as there is no suitable place for cultural activities to be undertaken, many of the activities were shifted to Shilpakala Academy in Segunbagicha, much to the disappointment of local cultural activists.

Kazi Zahirul Islam Manik, councillor of Ward No. 3 in Mirpur, said: "I am a social worker as well. I also have a cultural group. I was active in the movement demanding a theatre hall in Mirpur. 

“The current mayor has promised us a state-of-the-art hall with facilities for organizing cultural events. It is a big project. Therefore, it is taking time. But we have plans to build a full-fledged cultural centre there. A team has already been formed to work on the matter. Hopefully, we will be able to float a tender for this project in this session.”

Mir Khairul Alam, chief executive officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, said: "I have recently joined here. Therefore, I can't say anything without seeing the related files."

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