Not in My Back Yard
Salma A. Shafi makes the case for relocating the BDR headquarters outside the city
The Pilkhana was the place to tame wild elephants during the British period, and in 1799 the British established the first camp in this uniquely lush green abode. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) succeeded the East Pakistan Rifles in 1971 and Pilkhana area became an identified security area.
During the War of Liberation in 1971, the Pilkhana served as one of the main defense areas of the Pakistan Army as well as a torture centre for the pro-liberation Bengali forces.
It does need elaboration that last February's carnage jolted the entire nation and led to rethinking the wisdom of locating a para-military force in the city centre. It would be a wise decision if the Home Ministry and the city authorities consider the Master Plan proposal and relocate the BDR complex to a safe and secure area away from the city.
Land features of the Pilkhana area
Total land area of the Pilkhana (Ward No. 52 of DCC) is about 349 acres along with a population of roughly 75,000 -- the BDR HQ physically covers almost a quarter of the ward and was inhabited by an estimated 15,000-18,000 persons prior to the February tragedy. The location of the BDR area within the DCC area and Ward No. 52.
Other than BDR requirements, the complex has gradually and incrementally been used for commercial and institutional purposes to serve its forces and the city people through four schools and colleges, a modern shopping complex/mall, and a popular high class community centre commercially used for large receptions such as weddings. The area has five entrance-ways, but people outside this area are not allowed to enter the except during school hours and for the use of Darbar Hall.
Dhaka City Master Plan Proposals for BDR Area
As per the approved 1997 Master Plan of Dhaka City the BDR headquarters is located under the SPZ-2 (Spatial Planning Zone) established by the Dhaka Integrated Transport Study (DITS); which sub-divided the RAJUK Area into 19 zones. The Urban Area Plan (1995-2015) has analysed the location of BDR HQ under the following aspects:
-BDR HQ is a self-contained public safety facility that under-utilises a substantial area of scarce land in the centre of the city, while also blocking a potential thoroughfare route and a rational supply network for utility services.
-The BDR HQ restricted area can potentially provide a substantial area of centrally located urban land that could site a variety of more intense and productive urban uses.
-The plan recommends relocation of the BDR HQ after detailed study of the preferred use of the area.
The Need for Relocation
The BDR complex, currently located in Newmarket thana, is strategically in a very wrong position, as it is located in the most central and commercial area of the city. At the same time, it is not at all related to the city people or any of their needs. As far as the functions of BDR are concerned, such a complex should be placed away from the city.
It is also rational to consider the best public interest and use of all land that belongs to the government.
It would be a wise decision if the Home Ministry and the city management consider the Master Plan proposal and relocate the BDR complex to a safe and secure area away from the city.
There is ample khas land available within DMA, particularly in the Savar-Gazipur region where many military institutions are presently located. All these defence organisations can be clustered together in the same location to draw strategic support from one another.
The good connection with the national highways in that area is ideal for these institutions. Also the number of personnel and families in these complexes permits putting up sustainable number of ancillary institutions i.e. in education, health, and other social needs.
Dhaka city's population has grown more than eight times since 1971. The need for land for the most essential purposes has never been allocated in a planned way. As a result, the dynamics of unplanned growth have resulted in large-scale informal development and at questionable locations all over the city. Planning control has not been enforced and development has not been guided in the right direction.
Under such pressure, Dhanmondi residential area has given way to large scale use of residential land for commercial, educational, and health uses, and to serve not only the locality but also citywide people. Constant traffic congestion is the prevailing condition of the area and there is deterioration of the overall social and physical environment.
Placement of BDR headquarters in Pilkhana ran counter to the force's professional and security needs. It cannot be denied that public access and public use of the area is being questioned as a factor which aided the tragic occurrence of last February.
In connection to the same incident it also needs to be mentioned that the unplanned layout within the BDR complex allowed little privacy among the various strata of the forces. Location of the practice grounds, storage of military equipments, etc are also not secure from public movement, as they are surrounded by dense habitation, in fact the highest density in Dhaka city prevails in the surrounding areas.
Thus, public gatherings, receptions, shopping malls, etc cannot be allowed to continue side-by-side in such a complex. Rather it is time to decide for the best use of public land for the city and also find suitable locations for security functions within urban boundaries.
A tentative proposal is outlined below for the Pilkhana area, given that an alternative site for relocation of the BDR functionaries is accepted along with the new organisational restructuring.
Click to enlarge
The area of 90 acres (approximately) of BDR land will be an institutional complex for the central and old Dhaka city area. A total of 150 campuses belonging to primary, secondary schools and universities in Zone 5 of DCC would all be relocated in this area. There are as many as 40 schools, six colleges, and twelve university campuses within Dhanmondi residential area alone.
Likewise, there are a total of 100 small, medium, and large health institutions in the Dhanmondi area, which also draws a large number of people. The Dhaka Strategic Transport Plan will integrate the proposed land use with their citywide planning and implementation program.
Within this proposed plan there will be provision for allocation of adequate land for each institution along with circulation, parking, recreation and green space. The recreational functions will only be related to education needs of students, i.e. indoor and outdoor games and parks, auditoriums and amphitheatres, etc. These facilities will provide space for physical and mental relaxation, which the vast number of growing young people in this society need.
The area should be planned to be connected by roads and green walkways with the DU campus and Ramna area to the south-east, to Sher-e-Bangla Nagar to the north, thus giving Dhaka its original form and shape of a city connected by green parks as conceived in the earlier plans.
Dhaka has not succeeded in carrying out any of its Master Plan, but timely and need-based solutions must be taken by the decision-makers to make the city liveable and create a better environment for future generations. Planning for land use readjustments in a city to accommodate growth are the most logical steps that a pro-people government should do.
Salma A. Shafi, an architect/planner, is Honorary Treasurer, Centre for Urban Studies (CUS), Dhaka.