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Dhaka losing its green

Farhad Chowdhury: Panthkunj Park,a piece of green life at Karwan Bazar, Panthpath, Banglamotor junction, the busiest area of the capital. Even a few years ago there were rows of trees. In the morning, the park was crowded with exercise-morning walks and chats in the afternoon. The weary traveler rested. The birds were chirping in the branches.
These are almost past. A section of the Dhaka Elevated Expressway will go from Panthkunj Park to Palashi via Hatirjheel. That work sacrifices about two-thirds of the park. Most of the trees have been cut down. No green life. Some survive in dilapidated conditions. The construction of some pillars of the expressway inside the park is going on. The presence of greenery has decreased a lot due to cutting of trees and installation of pillars.
There is no way to restore the atmosphere of the park.
Not only Panthkunj Park, Anwara Udyan, a place of relaxation for the city dwellers located in the heart of the capital, Farmgate, has also been lost. It is owned by Metrorail. The entire park is now bare of vegetation. The green garden is no longer green. Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) wants to establish a permanent station plaza at Anwara Udyan, although it was taken for temporary use due to the needs of the Metrorail project.
In the meantime, the Public Works Department has given permission to DMTCL for construction of metro rail station plaza. The residents have been expressing their anger since the occupation of the park. There was also a human chain to get the park back.
Rumel Rahman, a resident of Farmgate’sTejturi area told, “There were about two hundred trees and plants in Anwara Udyan. All gone now. Sitting in the park for a while, resting, chatting is all done. In the morning, my friends used to come and exercise. The park became encroached after the Metrorail work started. After that, I heard that the park will return to its previous state once the work is completed. There are also signboards provided by the city corporation. But if the station plaza is built here, this park will be lost forever.
DNCC strongly objected to the construction of station plaza in the park. DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam commented that the initiative to build Station Plaza is very sad and said, “It is difficult to accept that there will not be an open garden in such a commercial area like Farmgate.”
Director of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) Abdul Baki Mia regarding Anwara Udyan told, “It’s such a big project, so there will be some problems when it comes to work.” We couldn’t find any place to store our stuff. In the end, after talking to public works, we were given a place here.
When asked about Metroplaza, he said, “The work of this project is still pending.” We will do Metroplaza that’s right. But everyone is misunderstanding about this, when the work is done, you will see the news. There will be no commercial activities. There will be car parking here, I will try to park modernly.
According to a study by the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET), Dhaka metropolis needs to have 20 percent green area, but there is less than 8 and a half percent. Due to these reasons, the residents of Dhaka feel more heat and suffer more during the summer compared to the surrounding green areas.
It is known that there are 19 parks in Dhaka South City Corporation and 18 in Dhaka North City Corporation. Anwara Udyan, Panthkunj as well as Ramna Park, Shaheed Matiur Rahman Park and other parks have been indiscriminately cut due to development projects. Besides, the city corporation’s park renovation and the lease of shops inside the park have increased the concrete mess. As a result, the character of the parks has changed due to the loss of greenery.
There is no green space in that sense except parks or gardens in Dhaka. What is there is scattered. Development projects are also falling in those parks. Commercial activities are also a major obstacle. Many parks are being renovated and beautified as well as commercialized.
According to section 5 of the Conservation of Playgrounds, Open Spaces, Parks and Natural Waters Act, 2000, reclassification of land designated as playgrounds, open spaces, parks and natural water bodies or any other use or rent or lease for the use of such land Prohibited. However, various government organizations and city corporations are breaking this law by setting up restaurants on the banks of parks or lakes.
Regarding Panthkunj Park, according to City Corporation sources, the development work started in 2018 with an allocation of Tk 19.2 million for the beautification of the park. After the decision to take the Dhaka Elevated Expressway in this direction, the work of the park was stopped. After that, DSCC decided to develop the park in the rest of the area.
On the surface, it can be seen that some parts of the wall have been left and the rest has been demolished. The vegetation is reduced by more than half. A large part of the park used to be a playground but it no longer exists. Construction materials are scattered in open spaces.
After inspecting the cleaning program of Panthpath box culvert inside Panthkunj Park on April 18, Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation Sheikh Fazle Noor Tapos said, “We want to present an aesthetic garden to the people of Dhaka.” However, due to the elevated expressway work, a large part of the park will be lost to them. Still, as much as I have been able to save, I can soon open it up for the people of Dhaka. Panthkunj will be turned into an aesthetic garden before July.’
When asked about Panthkunj Park, Project Director of Dhaka Elevated Expressway, AHMS Akhtar Hossain told, “This will happen if the project is to be successful.” We have taken only minimal space. On the instructions of the Prime Minister, the line will go from here to Palashi. Many will talk a lot, but work must be done. When the work is finished, if necessary, we will plant trees here again.
Old Dhaka’s Victoria Park is also losing its tradition due to commercialization. In October 2022, the park was leased to a company called DAR Holding Limited for Tk 361,000 in the name of ‘Food Van’ project. The lessee has built permanent infrastructure (shops and warehouses) there. Food vans are installed here too by cutting trees. In this way, one-third of the small park with an area of 84.3 katha has gone into the possession of the lessee.
People from different classes and professions regularly come to take a breath of relief in the park which has witnessed history as there is no open space in old Dhaka. Apart from this, the students-parents who have come for various university entrance exams, school-college board exams wait in the park. The park has lost its tradition after the installation of food vans. Movement in the park and especially those who exercise regularly are also being disrupted.
ZamiruddinSentu, the manager of this food van in Bahadurshah Park said, “From the beginning, we are trying to maintain the environment. Cleanliness is maintained around the shop daily. We do not want pedestrians to be harmed. None of us have complained so far. We will continue to maintain the environment of the park.
Alamgir Kabir, General Secretary of Bangladesh Environmental Movement (Bapa) told, “Those who plan to renovate these parks are not really environment friendly. They don’t agree that there are certain principles in park-reservoir reform. The court has directed that no structure can be built inside the park. Currently, Anwara Park and Panthkunj Park in the heart of Dhaka are disappearing only because of the negligence of the City Corporation. Losing parks means losing green. All of us are suffering from this.
Professor Ishrat Islam, dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning of Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET) told, “Our city is actually not as planned. The initiative taken to green Dhaka is also not succeeding. Parks and grounds that are currently being renovated are being re-constructed. No structure should be placed there. Even if trees are planted in parks or gardens, soil is not kept underneath. As a result, the tree does not stay there for long. We are not doing the development as needed.
This architect also said, ‘In addition to the park-ground, every citizen can plant trees in their home yard if they want. In this case, every citizen has the same responsibility as the government. Another easy way to increase greening is to plant trees next to wetlands. Wetland in our city is getting occupied day by day, it is disappearing.
Dhaka South City Corporation Chief Executive Mizanur Rahman told, “The City Corporation always works thinking about the large population. If some trees are cut down through the park or playground, there is some purpose behind it. For example, if the trees in Dhupkhola field were not cut, there would not be a beautiful field there. Again, if this field is not renovated, maintenance is not possible.
He also said, ‘It cannot be said that the park is being commercialized. In some cases, lease is required for maintenance and good management. Can’t let go completely. Even on the occasion of Eid, the locals held fairs in the parks in many places, we evicted them by carrying out raids. Those who we lease, miss using it. We are not denying that we have some flaws. Those who take lease, they are not obeying our instructions. Make them aware of those issues.
According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, shaded areas with vegetation and greenery have temperatures between 11 and 25 degrees Celsius cooler than unshaded areas. That is why greening around houses, streets and parks in the city is essential. The Institute for Planning and Development (IPD) 2020 survey says that in 1999, the amount of green and open space in the central area of Dhaka was 21 percent. It gradually decreased to 13 percent of Dhaka’s green area in 2020. Currently it has come down to 8 and a half percent.

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