Thoughts of an army child on free movement through cantonment-controlled areas
While people consider the defense forces of Bangladesh to be amongst the most corruption-free and principled government organizations, members of which act as angels when the nation is faced with calamities, natural or otherwise, a widespread perception (rightfully or not) that persists regarding the military of Bangladesh is of its members’ sometimes unfriendly nature towards the general public.
The uniformed in the sub-continent have traditionally been seen as having their noses in the air and, unfortunately, many tax-payers do not particularly feel very comfortable around military personnel.
Those fortunate enough to have ever been inside the Dhaka Cantonment tend to be dazzled by the scenic beauty, the empty, roads, and the disciplined traffic. It seems to be a whole different world in there.
The infrastructural development in the recent past gives a very posh look to the military, which however, was not the case at the time of my old man’s tragic death at the BDR Pilkhana carnage of February 2009. Growing up in cantonments all over the country, I found military families to be humble and middle class.
Having been an army child, I enjoy the privilege of accessing Dhaka Cantonment, even today. During times of scorching heat and terrible traffic in Dhaka, when time is of the essence to those commuting to school or work, the cantonment “shortcut” is a blessing, saving the commuter hours.
While entry restrictions placed by the cantonment authority and the enforcement of such by the military police is understandable, a close friend of mine, denied entrance in Mohakhali DOHS (to reach work) on several occasions in the recent past, found himself aggrieved and asked me to find the legal provisions that can prohibit one from entering the Defence Officers’ Housing Societies (DOHS) areas -- a residence for mostly retired officers, where other civilians may well reside as tenants or own/lease property also.
Had he been denied access at Mohammadpur Iqbal Road, Bashundhara, or Niketan, all these surrounded by gates and private security guards as well, would it not curtail his “freedom of movement,” enshrined as a fundamental right in the constitution? Of course, unless he would, for instance, seek entrance at a very odd time or be in possession of anything that may seem unreasonable to enter with, his situation would well suit the definition of such freedom as per our constitution: “Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest, every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh.”
On the other hand, while reasons for “reasonable restrictions” to enter the cantonment may be plentiful (including national security), one may argue whether guards of the four DOHS areas (namely Banani-Kakoli, Mohakhali, Baridhara, and Mirpur) tend to act unconstitutionally, by not letting many in.
Well, the answer is no.
In accordance to Sections 4 and 5 of the Cantonments Act (Act No. II of 1924), the government may, by notification in the official gazette, declare its intention to include within a cantonment any local area situated in the vicinity thereof, and such an area shall thereupon become subject to this act and to all other enactments for the time being in force throughout the cantonment and to all notifications, rules, regulations, by-laws, orders, and directions issued or made as per the act.
The mentioned four DOHS are extensions of the Dhaka Cantonment (falling within the purview of such), where there is a cantonment board (like in all other cantonments) under the Military Lands and Cantonment Directorate, to provide with the municipal services to its inhabitants, both military and civil.
As far as the discretionary functions of such a board is concerned, Section 117 (1) (k) mentions that the board may make provisions for adopting any measure, likely to promote the safety, health, or convenience of the inhabitants of the cantonment.
By his outlook, it may seem as though he is safe and non-detrimental to one’s health, but whether my friend’s entrance to DOHS inside is likely to cause “inconvenience” to any resident is highly subjective.
While it is true that the authorities at the cantonment areas in Dhaka possess the right to restrict entrance to the commoners, it is perhaps a matter worth consideration, whether being more accommodating to the needs of the tax-payers would be nice from their end, in a Dhaka where traffic stands still for hours -- if not the other areas, then at least DOHS maybe?
Saquib Rahman is a senior lecturer in law, and the faculty advisor of the Ethics & Diversity Club of North South University.