Encroachment in the city’s Suhrawardy Udyan area, allegedly backed by a segment of Bangladesh Chhatra League activists, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, and a section of policemen from Shahbagh police station, is unabated and on the rise.
The ground which hosted many unforgettable chapters of our nation’s history is gradually losing its past glory as a large groups of occupiers are illegally erecting different structures and makeshift shops, leading to the destruction of the ground’s beauty and eventually its existence.
After visiting the area, this correspondent found that makeshift shops have occupied much of the ground’s open space. Almost one-third of Suhrawardy Udyan was filled with shops selling snacks and tea, along with various other hawkers.
When asked, Md Sharif, an owner of a tea stall at the udyan, said he had set up the shop about a year ago without obtaining permission from any authorities.
Another shop owner, Mohammad Ratan, said, “We established the shops with permission from a few student leaders of Dhaka University and the police.” “Each shop owner has to pay Tk50-60 to the Shahbagh police every day and a few student leaders take Tk200 every two days as toll,” he added.
Seeking anonymity, few students of DU also claimed that a section of BCL leaders along with the police support the illegal shop owners, collecting tolls regularly and in return restrict authorities concerned from taking legal actions against the unlawful practice.
However, the president of DU unit of BCL, Mehedi Hasan, and officer-in-charge of Shahbagh police station, Shirajul Islam, denied the allegations.
Mehedi told the Dhaka Tribune, “All the allegations against Chhatra League activists are false. As far as I know, our activists are not involved in such illegal activities.”
Regarding the eviction of the shopkeepers from the area, he said: “Since we do not have any links with the encroachments in the area, we never made and will never make any objection about evicting shopkeepers from the area.”
OC Shirajul Islam said, “We often carry out raids to evict illegal structures from the udyan, but after the raid is completed, the occupiers return to the park and setup shops again.”
“Every day, we try our best to free the park from encroachments and keep it away from being the host of any criminal activities,” he added.
The Suhrawardy Udyan, which was previously known as Ramna Race Course Ground, hosted the historic March 7 speech delivered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the December 16 surrender of the Pakistan army, ending the Liberation War of 1971.
However, the historic past of the park has almost vanished due to illegal and socially unacceptable activities, which take place in the park every day. Along with illegal shops, uncontrolled movement of drug addicts, sex workers, muggers and petty criminals have robbed the udyan of its beauty.
There were also allegations that the udyan’s security guards, including Ansar men, often allow prostitutes and drug dealers inside the park with a certain percentage of commission from them and in exchange turn a blind eye towards their activities.
Md Kabir Ahmed Bhuiyan, chief engineer of Public Works Department, the authority concerned for the Suhrawardy Udyan, echoed the OC Shirajul, and said: “Tough the eviction drives are conducted almost regularly, these occupiers tend return and setup their shops again. Then they wait till the next drive to leave and return again.”
He said: “We have already proposed to the government to announce the historic Suhrawardy Udyan as a Kea Point Installation (KPI). If the government approves the proposal, special security forces would be deployed around the area, and the encroachments can be diminished completely.”