Vol. 5 Num 1104 Mon. July 09, 2007  
Star City

DCC's misfield prompts trade with playgrounds

Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) and various other government organisations ignored responsibility to look out for the public interest by authorising commercial use of numbers of city parks and playgrounds by different private organisations.

It is an irony that when the DCC spends public money to "maintain these breathing spaces" on behalf of the residents of the city, the organisations -- with exclusive permission from the DCC -- bar the public from accessing these places.

Kamruzzaman Chowdhury, chief estate officer of DCC, said, "It is true that public use of playgrounds is denied in such arrangements." He however was not sure of exactly how many public playgrounds have been leased out to various private organisations.

Kalabagan Krirachakra, a sports club, occupies the entire Kalabagan Children's Park (Kalabagan Maath) and uses the playground for commercial purposes on a regular basis, according to locals.

The then DCC mayor Mohammad Hanif leased out the south part of Kalabagan Children's Park to the club during the then Awami League (AL) government. The club first raised a shed, later a one-story structure and recently it has built a two-story building inside the boundary of the playground.

As per the terms and conditions, the club is not supposed to build any structure on the playground. Moreover, the structures inside the playground do not even have Rajuk (Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha) approval, said a source.

Back when the Dhanmondi Lake development project was underway, the consultation firm involved with the project had suggested developing a children's park on the northern portion of the ground, a lakeside walkway along the filed as part of the lake development project and bridging the playground with the nearby island in the lake.

But the then AL minister for textiles Abdus Samad Azad ignored the suggestion.

Kalabagan Krirachakra later raised a boundary wall around the playground and occupied the entire children's park.

General secretary of Kalabagan Krirachakra, Saleh Ahmed Tipu, said, "It is true that we have no lease for the northern portion of the ground where we run a plant sales outlet."

"We have no approval for the two buildings constructed on the playground," he admitted and said that the use of the playground is restricted to all without prior permission from the club.

Another popular playground on Dhanmondi Road 8, known as Dhanmondi playground, is occupied by Dhanmondi Club and permission from the club is required to use it.

According to a recent survey conducted by the DCC in June 2007, Dhanmondi Club built office structures, five cricket pitches an a couple of football posts on the Dhanmondi playground and made the playground restricted to public.

Dhanmondi children's park, adjacent to roads 3, 4 and 5, is occupied by Dhanmondi Cricket Academy, a limited company.

A Dhanmondi resident, living there for over four decades, said requesting anonymity that the park used to be an excellent place for local residents for leisurely walks and their children used to play there freely. But now, the entry to the park has been restricted for the general public.

Locals complained that anyone wishing to use the ground has to pay the academy and even leisure walkers do not have access to the park.

The largest playground in Dhanmondi, known as Abahani playground, was leased out dubiously to Abahani Limited on a long-term basis by Public Works Department.

The public park behind Bangladesh Biman office at Motijheel was handed over to Dhaka Bank for 'beautification'.

Former captain of national cricket team Gazi Ashraf Hossain Lipu, convenor of Parks and Grounds Programme Committee of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (Bapa), said the public use of a playground gets restricted once it is designated to a certain club or organisation.

"Usually, no tournament is held at such fields," Lipu said adding, "Any other club or team has to acquire permission to use the ground from its designated authority [the organisation that leased the ground]."

According to sources, anti-social activities such as gambling take place regularly at many of these so-called sports clubs.

Former adviser to caretaker government and environmentalist SM Shahjahan said the public parks must be used properly in the interest of the public. Commercial use does not serve the objective of maintaining public parks.

Commercial use of parks and playgrounds by a certain group or organisation is not acceptable at all, said the former adviser. "In this case, it defeats the actual purpose of a public spaces. There should not any scope of commercial use in public parks."

Use of public parks may be limited at best to local communities, but not to any individual organisation, Shahjahan advised.

Absence of adequate sporting facilities for the public including parks and playgrounds is to a great extent reason for the alarming rise of obesity, frustration and drug addiction among today's youth, He observed.

Architect Salma Shafi, an urban planner, said the general public cannot use a playground when it is handed over to a club or a sports organisation.

"This is just unfair, illegal and against the public interest," she said, "Usually, local ward commissioners patronise such possession of public playgrounds and a certain coterie of dishonest individuals make quick bucks exploiting public properties."

The High Court (HC) in a verdict (writ 1814/ 2004) on April 24, 2004, ordered not to use the Dhanmondi playground for any purposes other than as a playground.

In a similar verdict on writ 2420/ 2003, the HC on April 27, 2003, directed not to change the land use nature on the green open space of Asadgate New Colony playground.

But according to the aforesaid DCC survey, many public parks are being used for various commercial purposes. Shahid Park (Makil Park) in Mohammadpur is one such park.

Shyamoli Shishu Mela (children's park) is being used as a commercial amusement park, the general public has no access to Farmgate Triangular Park, which is entrusted with a private company for 'beautification'.

Narinda Shishu Park has been divided into a number of portions, the DCC survey found. Narinda Lions Club occupies a portion, a two-story building rented out for community programmes occupies another portion while several tin-roofed houses, known as Wasa quarters, occupy the rest. A small portion of the parkland is being used by a nearby mosque.

A club occupies Outfall Staff Quarter Shishu Park in DCC ward 86.

Iqbal Road Shishu Park (Udayjal ground) in Mohammadpur is also occupied by a club.

Hazaribagh Kasaitola Park is in possession of a club. Presently, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) runs a kitchen market on the park.

Dhupkhola playground in DCC ward 81 has been split into three portions. East End Club is one of the occupiers of the ground. There is also a Shahid Minar, office and parking of a rent-a-car business, a public toilet and a restaurant on different parts of the playground. There are also two shops, a rickshaw garage and a construction material shop on the same ground.

Parks and Grounds Programme Committee of Bapa found that Haji Alim Eidgah Maath in Bakshibazar is under exclusive possession of Orient Cricket Academy.

The sponsor of the academy, a private firm, uses the playground for loading and unloading goods, said Sharif Jamil, member secretary the Committee quoting locals. A kitchen market has been allowed on the playground to justify the commercial use of the field, locals alleged.

Shyamoli PC Culture playground is in possession of Shyamoli Club and a by kitchen market. The market pays both to the local commissioner and the club, said Sharif Jamil.

Architect Iqbal Habib, Member secretary of Bapa, said, "The DCC should give up its duty of maintaining parks and playgrounds unless it can ensure free public access to these."

Prof. Serajul Islam Choudhury, noted educator and head of a high-level advisory committee on the city's park development and beautification, said the people have to make the DCC accountable for its duties.

"The DCC must do its duties properly," he added.

Residents of every neighbourhood, in their own interest, have to create pressure on the local ward commissioners to keep the public spaces in good shape, Choudhury suggested.

Clockwise From Left: The park at the Dhanmondi road 4 intersection has been taken over by a cricket academy, Dhanmondi club enjoys the overall control of Dhanmondi playground and the Kalabagan playground remains inaccessible to outsiders. PHOTO: STAR