Dhaka megalopolis: From planning to reality

Md Emdadul Islam

Dhaka is now termed as a megacity where the population bomb has already been exploded. It is envisaged that Dhaka will be the 6th largest megacity of the world with a population of 27.37 million in 2030. The city has become paralyzed due to horrendous traffic jams, water-logging, haphazard construction, poor solid waste management, degradation of environment owing to its uncontrolled population growth, poor management, and weak governance system. 

There are no correct statistics on its population, buildings or any other infrastructure and services. Hundreds of thousands of people have been floating on the footpath and open spaces squatting here and there. Nobody cares to make their constructions as per the Land Use Provisions, Building By-laws and Code. This unhindered and unplanned growth of Dhaka has made it one of the most vulnerable and unlivable cities on the planet. 

The DMDP Plans prepared in the backdrop of 80-90’s aim and vision of the then governments failed to produce any effective results. The new Structure and DAP planners reviewed the situation and proposed a set of measures, interventions and action plans to meet the future context of urban growth and changes. Meanwhile, the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) is also reviewed and updated by its initiators. In such a situation, if there is not any strong will from the government, updating of policies and effective coordination in the development process, the city will be ruined and inhabitable in all respects. Here a few aspects are mentioned which the government should address immediately. 

Urbanization and renewal policies

Dhaka, located in central geographical position presently accommodates about 10-12 percent of nation’s population. Due to lack of decentralization and liberal policies, more than two-third garment and knitwear factories, and a majority of private university and hospitals are developed in and around the city. Unfortunately, yet there is not any comprehensive urbanization policy neither for its prime city Dhaka, nor any planned urban development and expansions in the country, though it is drafted long before. There are not also any dedicated or specialized Ministry or Cell for the purposes. More than 49 years has gone since the independence, but the problems and agonies of residents of inner-city areas of Dhaka are not being addressed yet. 

Amidst the scenario, as said, in one side buildings and infrastructure are being constructed haphazardly not following the approved Plans, Building By-laws  and Code. On the other hand, some real estate developers in the name of housing project development and extensions, has been indiscriminately destroying the city’s low-lying areas and water bodies including flood flow zones. It needs no emphasising that if the capital city of a country grows in such an unplanned and haphazard way, naturally all other city and towns will follow it! 

There is also lack of Urban Renewal Policy. Once the Plan is prepared, it is never reviewed and evaluated. In this way, the capital city Dhaka has become a ‘Megalopolis’ with so many problems like shortage of buildable land, inadequate road, diminishing open spaces and play grounds, encroaching and filling-up of low-laying areas including city’s khals and canals, acute shortage of many urban facilities like graveyards, polluted environment, poor law and order situation etc. 

In particular, the traffic condition has become unbearable.  Once, which was possible to move one place to another place within 10-15 minutes, now it takes more than hour and sometime even more than that, causing a great damage in working hour and fuels. Every country and cities in the world have their own Renewal Policies and somewhere there are also Re-development Authorities. So, we will have to review our ‘Leverage Areas’ of urbanization process and without framing the Urbanization and Renewal Policies nothing will be move forward.  

Government visionsAt the moment, there is an elected government in Bangladesh. Before that there were another 4-5 elected governments in power. There were also military-led governments in power on 2-3 occasions. But, almost in the tenure of all the previous governments, development projects had not been undertaken in accordance with the Master Plan. Projects conceived without comprehensive feasibility studies, without assessment of traffic, social and environmental impacts and detailed design and proper cost calculations could not be implemented in full and somewhere many projects have fallen idle after their part of implementations. It also appears that with the change of government, concept of many projects of previous government have also been changed and somewhere also stopped. 

Usually, there are various types of visions, propositions and prioritizations for infrastructure and housing developments of ruling government; systemized public and private sector commitments, overseas (donors) investment proposals and other multi-sectorial programs in the Five-Year Rolling Plans, There should be a clear vision and sustainable policy, plan and programs of government, which would be implemented properly as per necessity. However, the present government being in power for successive periods has already initiated various visions like ‘Perspective Plan-2021’, ‘Vision-2041’ and ‘Delta Plan-2100’ besides their Election Manifestos and universally adopted SDG Program. Accordingly, the government also undertook some mega-projects in this light. But, it needs a more concerted and well thought-out professional plans in order to make them sustainable.      


Every city has an enduring capacity in terms of population size, development and management. But the Dhaka city with its present configurations, infrastructure, services and amenities cannot contain such a large population (about 2 crore). Expansion and growth of Dhaka is restricted due to many natural constraints like low-laying water bodies around the city crisscrossing many rivers and canals over it. It really costs too much to bring these lands in the urbanization process. Moreover, there can not be uncontrolled population in the capital city. 

So, it is very much needed to decentralize many activities and establishments from Dhaka to other divisional cities or at suitable places and by creation of more new towns outside the city limits. In this regards, in the new Detailed Area Plan (DAP 2016-2035), it is proposed for planned Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) by installing the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, like many other planned and mega-cities. Already, the government has initiated a few MRT projects towards TOD for alleviating the pressure from the inner-city areas. But, more emphasis is needed from the government for different type of TOD planning and developments in DMR, which will be helpful in the decentralization process.

Mass rapid transit 

The present government initially contemplated for a Light Rail Transit system, and now re-thinking for integrated MRT services including Sub Ways (Underground) developments in the light of Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP 2016-2035). Out of which, MRT-6 line starting from the Uttara Township to Kamalapur Railway Station is now under construction and works of another Elevated Road Expressway starting from Kurmitola International Airport to Jatrabari under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) system has been going on. It needs to coordinate holistically with total MRT/Sub-Way propositions including improving the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Circular Water-Ways Systems around the city. 

It is heartening to note that recently the Honorable Prime Minister has ordered the concerned ministry and departments for conducting the detail feasibility studies on Sub-Way/MRT constructions. In RSTP, it is proposed for 5 MRT and 4 BRT developments In new DAP, it is stressed for transforming these MRT/BRT Routes into ‘Urban Lifeline’ by planting trees and gardening either side of these routes and also raise the necessity of Bus Route Rationalizing. In this context, it is also essentially needed to relocate the Bus Terminal and Central Railway Stations (particularly from Kamalapur and Tejgaon) from the inner-city areas. Very recently, the Two Mayors of Dhaka has also inspected the probable new sites of Bus Terminals outside the city limits and agreed to operate the inter-districts Bus Services from there. In fact, without such a holistic planning of MRT and BRT services, it will not be possible to manage the traffic congestion in the Dhaka city.

(To be continued)

Md Emdadul Islam is an Engineer cum Urban Planner.