City governance and unplanned development of Dhaka

Published : 01 Feb 2021 09:11 PM | Updated : 02 Feb 2021 09:54 AM

(Continued from last day's section)

There are four specific urban patterns in Dhaka city. First one is “Old Dhaka”, the historical hub of the city which still upholds the Mughal history and their city planning layout with compact building masses and narrow lanes. Second group contains areas that are formally planned as a satellite model town after 1950. This includes Gulshan, Baridhara, Dhanmondi and Mirpur model towns which were mainly developed on swampy lands. After 1980 private developers started planning and designing satellite towns which were before handled only by RAJUK. Now the third pattern is the combo of formal outline and old fusion plans, which contains most of the development of the city. And the last group comprises temporary small houses and slum settlement accommodating 30 percent of city population.

A major shift in the national economy has become the driving force of rapid urbanization in Dhaka city. Dhaka region itself yet contains 80 percent of the garments factories of the whole country and the growth of the RMG industry critically shapes up the economic progress and the demographic profile of the city. RMG sector engages around 12 percent of the manufacturing workforce, comprises mostly rural migrants and 90 percent of women labors. 

The concentrated RMG and its auxiliary jobs in Dhaka created agglomeration impact on the urban economy by forming localized and urbanized economic state. Few factors including uneven urbanization and concentration of economic opportunities and urban services in Dhaka has made it a mega urban region. 

Similarly, due to centralization process shifting of a large number of government and semi government offices and growth of most private universities in Dhaka, there are huge influx of populations which created problems in housing, transport and all other related services and amenities. Such ill-conceived economic growth in Dhaka has also boosted the financial sectors like private banks, insurance and stock exchanges and triggered the services for growing middle class lifestyle comprising private clinics, restaurants and in all other retail facilities.

Being the capital and economic hub in the country’s Centre, Dhaka has been purely considered as a place of opportunities. Lower economic group come here with the possibility to earn more than that of in the countryside, middle class people reside in the city to get a modern lifestyle by accessing the rising markets and bureaucratic works and higher class are in Dhaka either because of their loyalty or power, or else they have left. Dhaka also shares a strong tie with its surrounding rural areas and its high dependence on the rural areas, make it unique than many other cities. 

As Dhaka participates in the national and global economies more than ever, its connections with the rural regions are even more critical for future resilience and sustainability. Here regrettably, Dhaka lacks of internal jurisdictional coordination as well as powerful planning and inclusive governance structure without any political manipulation. Despite repetitive recommendations from different planning studies and civil societies for the decentralization of economic activities from Dhaka and strengthening other urban areas as economic bases, no effective action was taken. Since the independence, several attempts of developing an acceptable local government structure to decentralize political power, administrative authority and financial autonomy have been failed due to national political pressure. 

Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) was the key political administrative organization of the city, which was recently dissolved and divided into two corporations, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), by which the demand of creation of City Government (‘Nagor Sarker’) became uncertain! Earlier in 1986, Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) also converted to a ‘bureaucratic RAJUK’. With these changes the two city corporations now can also perform the planning and building regulation jobs in Dhaka in parallel with RAJUK, which created a conflict of interests between these organizations. 

Similarly, over the years, there has been also changes in the structure of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Dhaka Electric Supply Authority (DESA & DESCO), Titas Gas Authority, Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA), Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board (BTCL) and in Education and Health wings, Public Works, Roads & Highways and Land Administration managements. More importantly Local Govt Engineering Dept (LGED) and Army Engineering Core has also allowed to involve with development process in Dhaka. It says that presently some about 54 organizations are involved with the development process of Dhaka city. 

These urban organizations are generally experiencing lack of coordination, limited resources, internal fragmentation, partial autonomy and high level of corruption in service provisions. And of all these constraints, the acute issue is the poor coordination of institutions at the level of planning, implementation and continuation of public services. 

Thus absence of discussion and coordination among these urban organizations lead towards an unplanned development, repetition of actions and even incompletion of development projects due to inter-departmental conflicts. Many urban researchers blame that without comprehensive study and discussions MRT projects undertaken inside the city over the years are not producing intended results, rather these could be built-up outside the city limits from the city ends as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) approach.

Another major problem is lack of coordination among service agencies and utility providers. Utility providers face serious lack of communication with the development authorities resulting utter mismanagement and delay in project execution.  One of the important reasons behind the lack of inter-institution coordination is that the municipal authorities is formed by elected representatives who have their own political commitments to their local voters whereas the specialized agencies are accountable to their respective line ministries in hierarchical way. And the absence of rational dialogues between political and non-political entities restrains the community from participating in policy making and influencing development execution. For an efficient management and proper execution of development works, all the utility providers, public works departments and law enforcement agencies are needed to bring under the direct power of City Authorities.

Due to overpopulation, horrendous traffic system and management and thereby environmental degradation, the standard of living in Dhaka city has been rated as 2nd   worst by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and it stood 39 out of 40 cities by Asia week for consecutive years.  The means of transport in the city is a critical factor determining city advancement . Transport regulations and conditions need to be properly managed by the city authorities and overall city planning should be inclusive of infrastructure planning and strategic directions. Thus, ensuring safe, affordable and accessible transport system for all citizens is a key sign of good governance which encompasses the creation of a transparent group of key stakeholders with a set of rules and regulations illustrating their operations and accountability. 

It is to also note here that among many other problems, transport system is experiencing difficulties with its large number of unregistered rickshaws in Dhaka city. According to a recent study done by Bangladesh Police Special Branch, there are more than 500,000 rickshaws in the city among which only 80,000 are registered that causes a major traffic issue. Another key issue in the transport division is the lack of internal jurisdictional coordination and confusion among the management authorities. It is time to implement jurisdictional coordination and incorporate inclusive transport planning in the overall Transport Plan, prioritizing public transportation and road infrastructures. 

An integrated umbrella authority, like that of Dhaka Metropolitan Regional Authority (DMRA) has to be formed by a major organizational transform, as suggested in the STP & RSTP. The main concept of the Strategic Transport Plan of Dhaka was to encourage the amalgamation of land use planning and transport planning and hence let this agency to manage a range of associated tasks.

    (To be continued)

Md  Emdadul Islam is an Engineer-Planner -cum- Urban Analyst.