Cry Chittagong Cry
Professor Abdul Mannan
Finally God has spoken. The angel of death has suddenly paid a visit to Chittagong and a total of 126 people lost their life in a span of few hours. This all happened on Monday, June 11, 2007 when hills came crushing because of incessant rainfall on residential quarters of mainly low income people living dangerously in the slope of cut down hills in the second largest city of the country. One would like to believe it is a natural disaster though in reality it is not. It is man made and can be termed as the cost of living in affluence and relative comfort of some people that the general people are paying with their life and property. It is also the colossal failure of the administration that contributed to the angel of death making the visit to this beloved city of mine. Two thirds of the city was under water and the people are still struggling in search of basic necessities like water and shelter in many places.
My association with this historic city (a busy town even in those days) is more than half a century. I am a witness to a city under seize by land grabbers, unscrupulous businessmen, politicians and totally incompetent district administration and other government agencies. Chittagong in the fifties when we were growing up was a much better place to live than Chittagong now. In a span of fifty odd years the city has taken a look of an Aids' patient waiting for its destined death.
Chittagong is a unique city in the region. It is the only city in the country with hills, sea and plain land. Many Arab traders of ninth and tenth century found the city too good to leave and made it their home. Even my mom claims her ancestors came from Arabia. Chittagong, though a port city for hundreds of years, was hardly more than sixteen square miles till the late fifties. On the north you had the Sholashahar railgate, to the south you could only go up to the banks of the river Karnafully. The city completed its limit with Dewanhat in the West and Chowkbazar in the East. The total number of people living within the city limit would not cross one hundred thousand. The municipality had only four wards. Now it has forty-one with a population of five million. No other city was so picturesque, clean and friendly. Chittagonians would feel proud of their shutki (dried fish), beef, bela biscuit and the sampan. The legendary Chaktai Khal (Chaktai canal) was the life-line of the city as it was the main drainage for all the rain water of the city along with the usual sewage outlet. The khal starting from the Chaktai would go up to Muradpur.
It would be about 200-250 feet wide in many places and many Akyab bound big sail boats would moor deep inside the Chaktai Khal. These boats would be laden with rice, salt, lime and clothes.
Chittagong along with Sylhet always had a record of very high rainfall and the town seldom flooded as Chaktai Khal would take care of all the rainwater. Besides Chaktai Khal there were twenty two medium and small sized khals or canals. All have died.
Chittagong was put on its death bed in the late fifties when its first industrial area, the Baizid Bostami Industrial Area was established. Pakistan started its journey to industrialisation and Chittagong on its journey to death. The town limits were extended to Baizid Bostami Dargah gate. Hills had to be flattened to construct factory buildings. That was the beginning. The rainfall washed down the loose soil from the cut down hills to Chaktai Khal and other canals. The canals silted fast, the depth of the canals were lost and the encroachers danced with joy as it was time for grabbing the filled sections of the canal. Some canals soon disappeared and the historic Chaktai Khal was reduced to a mere useless drain full of slush and filth instead of flowing water from Karnafully.
In the fifties we would go to our nanabari (grandfather) to see the big Akyab bound boats laden with different goods tied to our nanabari's big banyan tree in Bakalia. Few years back I took my daughter to show a five feet wide drain and told her here lies the remains of once famous Chaktai Khal where I spent many days in my early childhood. Thank God my nana and nani did not live to see what happened to their Chaktai Khal from where my nana left for Akyab with his big boat laden with salt and other things bidding teary farewell to my young lovely nani (Grandmother). Nana would come back sometimes a month later with the boatful of fine grain rice. When his boat entered the Chaktai Khal he would send his assistant Abbas to my nani to announce his arrival. Nana's precious treasure for nani would be the high quality beetle nut from Akyab. My daughter finds it hard to believe the sad story of Chaktai Khal.
The hill cutting and encroaching of Chaktai and others canals that started in the fifties continued unchallenged for next fifty years. Encroaching of Chaktai Khal and other canals stopped now as there are no more left to encroach. Hill cutting continues. Housing facilities must be provided for the ever increasing population. The city area has increased to one hundred and twenty square miles. Hill cutting continues in full swing in Sholashahar, Baizid Bostami, Jalalabad, Nasirabad, Silimipur and Khulsi. It will continue for few more years until there will be no more hills to cut. Then some day some one will take his child to one of these places and say once there was a hill range in this area.
The people of Chittagong have cried many times. They cried because of the onslaught of the fury of nature and sometimes for what happened last Monday. The crying will not stop now nor in future unless all these hill cutting in Chittagong is stopped forever and Chaktai Khal restored to its original condition. The present Government talks about pulling down of many illegal structures. The task in Chittagong would be easier than that.
Already Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed and his Advisor Major General (Retd) M A Matin have announced tough measures against the perpetrators. Everyone would like to think that they mean business this time and it is not just sabre rattling. In the meantime, let us pray for those who died on that fateful Monday.
(Professor, East West University, Dhaka)
Note from Editor Star Campus
In the last few issues, we published articles on the opinions of different students, teachers and academicians about 'Public and Private Universities : Their merits and demerits'. It was a learning experience for all of us, getting to know the viewpoints from both the ends. We will stop publishing any further articles from the next week.
We however invite articles from all concerned about 'Student Politics and its implications'.