Encroachment to prevent encroachment? That’s what the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk) seems to be doing as it constructs a 2.56-kilometre driveway by filling certain parts of the Gulshan-Baridhara Lake, diverging from the original design.
Rajuk is building the road as part of a billion-taka development project to protect the lake from illegal encroachment, improve natural flow, water conservation capacity, and beautifying the lakeside.
Iqbal Habib, the project consultant said Rajuk has failed to keep to the original construction design.
“The design doesn’t entail encroaching on the land of the lake, since doing so would mean further shrinking of the lake areas. We have been very strict about that. But Rajuk is not following the design,” he said.
According to the project plan, Rajuk will build a 2.5-kilometre driveway along the eastern side of the lake, starting behind Gulshan Shooting Club and ending at Mariam Tower just behind the USA embassy in Dhaka.
Space for the road was supposed to be provided entirely by reclaiming khas land (government owned land) from illegal people occupants, Iqbal said.
During a recent visit to the construction site, workers were seen filling a portion of the lake on the eastern side, and several trucks laden with soil were moving in.
Mahbub Ul Alam, a member (Development) of Rajuk, however, denied the allegations.
He said the project’s purpose is to save the lake, not destroy it, “The 40-feet driveway will rather create a new road for the city dwellers.”
Environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan told the Dhaka Tribune the government couldn’t construct a driveway by filling up the lake that was declared as an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA), whatever the purpose.
“Given the lake’s current state, constructing a walkway would have been a better idea,” she said.
On November 1, 2001, the Department of Environment (DoE) declared the Gulshan-Baridhara Lake an ECA to protect it from pollution and illegal encroachment. However, apart from the announcement, the department took no significant measures to achieve its goal.
The three-year project undertaken by Rajuk, called Development of Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara Lake, has an estimated value of Tk4.10bn, was approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) on July 6, 2010.
It was supposed to start in July 2010 and finish by June 2013.
Muhammad Maududur Rashid Safdar, director (Dhaka Metropolis) of DoE, however, contradicted the statement by the project. He said: “as far as I know, Rajuk is going to make a walkway, not a driveway.”
Ironically, the Environment Clearance division of DoE has no official record of the project, which started without an Environment Clearance from DoE before starting construction, which is essential for any development work.
“All this is happening due to the lack of coordination among different government agencies,” said Md Shahjahan, director of the clearance division at DoE.