Let’s not make the same mistakes with our rural planning that we have made with our cities
The outcome of the recently concluded parliamentary election witnessed the ruling party achieve supreme victory once again, giving them a chance to further flesh out the election manifesto put forth last year.
The manifesto is a 92-page document that articulates specific sectoral plans and objectives grounded on the achievements over the last two terms of the ruling party. Although the prime slogan of this manifesto is “My Village -- My Town,” it seeks to extend modern urban facilities to every village. The prioritization is in context of rural development, but perhaps for the first time in the history of Bangladesh has urbanization received such political significance.
The manifesto makes it a point that “initiatives will be taken to provide every village with facilities of modern towns, including developed roads, communicationfacilities, safe drinking water, modern health care and proper treatment, standard education, developed sewage and waste management, electricity and fuel supply, computer and high-speed internet facilities, electric equipment and standard consumer goods, as well as employment opportunities will be created through the establishment of agricultural and non-agricultural light manufacturing equipments and machinery servicing centres and workshops in village levels, supported by loan facilities to marginal and small entrepreneurs.”
But exactly how will these goals be achieved?
Although Bangladesh has made significant economic progress during the last decade, unfortunately, urbanization has always been neglected and has remained unattended, as cities and towns have been developed in an unplanned manner.
If we think about our cities or towns, at the very first glance, negative aspects like traffic jams, water logging, haphazard waste, dirty air and water, slums and squatters, encroachment, etc come to mind.
Why couldn’t we develop our cities and towns in a more planned manner?
The direct answer is the absence of efficient urban planning. Our institutions are not developed in a way that can tackle these challenges systematically. There is no doubt that people living in urban areas enjoy many helpful services, but they are not developed based on urban planning decisions.
So, the unplanned provision of service facilities has led towards the rise of unplanned urban areas in Bangladesh. We should not repeat the same mistakes in the process of bringing urban services to rural areas. When we think about extending urban services in rural areas sustainably, an approach can be introducing integrated rural planning that will provide efficient and effective use of land, water, and natural resources for the rural settlements and growth centres, while ensuring provisions for various kinds of infrastructure, services, and facilities.
Integrated rural planning can be explained as a “techno-economic plan,” which has to be prepared by engaging all stakeholders in a particular village. Although, historically, there have been many conflicts centring land in rural Bangladesh, evidence is also available in the context of other parts of the world that, by adopting land pooling and land-readjustment techniques, planned physical growth has been achieved and many conflicts have been resolved in the process.
Village-level planning should be considered an integral part of the long pending national physical planning system, which could be the solid base for identifying 100 economic zones in potential locations. Land-use plans and transportation plans are linked, so cannot be treated as isolated from one another.
However, the prime question remains: Who will prepare and steer the implementation process of such plans?
Given that our institutions are not designed to perform such dynamic physical planning processes, the establishment of an institutional mechanism is essential. Such a set-up should have clear mandates, and delivery mechanisms equipped with the right level of authority, sufficient funding, and competent human resources.
To that end, approval of the draft Urban and Regional (Rural) Planning Act 2017 through a Parliamentary debate could be a great initial step for achieving that vision.
SM Mehedi Ahsan is an Urban and Rural Planner and is an Honorary Member of the Central Advisory Council to the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC), University of Glasgow.