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Are urban beautification schemes to blame for Mithu's death?

  • Published at 01:15 pm March 8th, 2016

Photo: Mehedi Hasan

Is an obsession with superficial beauty and a culture of passing the buck to blame for award-winning director Khalid Mahmood Mithu's death on Monday afternoon?

Killed by a falling tree as he returned home from office, Mithu's death is widely regarded to have been avoidable.

Urban planners are blasting ill-conceived urban beautification schemes that end up making large trees unstable – large trees like the one that killed Mithu.

Experts said the policy of building enclosures around trees on the pavements of the city's residential areas cause them to be prone to collapsing and therefore dangerous.

Ethno-botanist Pavel Partha explains: “Under normal circumstances, tree roots spread both vertically and horizontally – this requires space.

“Nurseries trim the roots of saplings for packaging and transport. When these trees are later replanted, they remain relatively weak.

“During cyclones Ayla and Sidr, it was found that all rain-trees were uprooted because they were from nurseries.”

The situation is even worse in the major cities, where nursery-bred trees are planted on road dividers and walkways and are then hobbled further by brick and mortar enclosures.

“In such conditions, the roots cannot spread horizontally and vertically and the tree stem cannot grow proportionately in its length and width, leaving them at serious risk of becoming uprooted,” Pavel says.

Urban planner Khondker Neaz Rahman says man-made enclosures around trees hamper the natural growth of tree roots. “In such cases, the tree will almost certainly topple over.”

He called such efforts at beautification “wrong.”

“In a city without a proper drainage system, waste management system or garbage management system, why this obsession with beautification?

Also Read: Filmmaker Khalid Mahmud killed by falling tree

“Public hygiene should come first. If there is no filth or garbage littering the streets, the city will automatically look beautiful. What a strange system we have!” Neaz adds.

Urban planner Iqbal Habib points out that last year one person was killed and another injured near Dhanmondi Lake in similar circumstances, but nobody was ever held responsible.

“Who is responsible for trees in the capital? Unless someone takes responsibility for their care and upkeep, more accidents will take place,” he says.

Iqbal says there is no record of how many people have been killed by falling trees or billboards in the capital.

Describing such deaths as "murder due to negligence", he says there is no difference between a child falling into a sewer line and Mithu's death.

This correspondent visited the tree-lined Dhanmondi residential area and found cement enclosures around practically every tree there – even around very large trees.

“Anyone walking on the footpaths of Dhanmondi cannot help but wonder what is happening in the name of development. These brick and mortar enclosures are a bad idea,” Iqbal says.

Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon says: “The police are investigating the tragic incident. I cannot say anything more right at this moment. After the investigation is concluded, I can speak further on this issue.”

Khalid Mahmood Mithu was critically injured by a falling tree around 2pm on Monday on Road 4 in the capital’s Dhanmondi neighbourhood. He succumbed to his injuries shortly afterwards.