At least 18 out of 48 community centres in capital Dhaka are being used for different purposes depriving public access to these venues since years. According to information, most of those 18 community centres are being used by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) authorities for extended security purposes.
Local government-run community centres are generally used for weddings and other celebrations. Many also have libraries and gyms for local resident use. These facilities face closure when the venues are requisitioned by security forces. Some public education institutions, such as school buildings, especially in the older parts of Dhaka, are being used as affordable alternative venues. Many of the private venues are too expensive and beyond the means of those with limited financial resources.
The continued occupation by the security forces has aggravated the situation, already exacerbated by a general lack of affordable venues. Residents of different areas expressed discontent about public venues occupied by security forces. Recently, residents of Mughda demonstrated on the streets to protest against a move by police to establish an outpost at Afir Uddin Community Centre, a public venue in the area. However, their objections were never heeded by the authorities.
Monerul Ahsan Jewel, vice president of Dhaka City unit Committee of Bangladesh Jubo Union, said, The Rayerbazar Community Centre located in Ward-34 area of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) has remained closed for a long time for repairing works. But, it still remains closed despite the repairing works being completed.
Some rights activists say, if people are unable to hold social, cultural and religious celebrations because they are barred from access to public venues, this amounts to more than a breach of civic rights. They said, security is an important issue, but the importance of people-to-people contact in society cannot be overlooked. But the two issues should not be mutually contradictory. The government needed to find suitable places for external wings of security forces and allow the public to use community centres for purposes they were intended for, they added.
They warned that communities with little or no access to healthy social activities and cultural interactions could easily turn to social ills and criminal activities. On condition of anonymity, a police officer said, they were forced to use some public community centres, given the importance and necessity of establishing a network to ensure public safety.
He said, they are using the venues because there is no alternative. But this is just a temporary arrangement. As soon as they find suitable places, the community centres will be free for public use again. Rab officers said that several alternative sites had already been selected where buildings would be constructed for Rab’s use.
Among the community centres occupied by the police are venues in Lalbagh, Bongshal, Wari, Mugda, Basabo, Dhanmondi, Rupnagar, Khilgaon, Kamrangirchar and Pallabi. While centres in Azimpur are being used by Chawkbazar police station and two community centres in Lalbagh are being used for residential purposes.
Rab-occupied venues include centres in Sher-e-Banglanagar, Moghbazar, Tikatuli, Khilgoan, and one in Mohammadpur’s Tajmahal Road. Talking to Bangladesh Post, DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam said, all the community centres should be used to facilitate the city people. Community centres in Uttara are being used by the city people at a lower cost. A lot of people are using them. But all the city wards do not have community centres.