Up Hope For Dhanmondi
jams caused by schools on every other street; large signboards
for private universities; neon signs for hospitals and diagnostic
centres; glitzy shopping malls and illegal shops, stalls and
vendors littering the streets. Dhanmondi barely resembles
a residential area anymore. But, while most people have given
up on it being a liveable place, there are still those who
refuse to give up hope.
process can be reversed," says Dr. Sultana Alam of the
Dhanmondi Poribesh Unnayon Jote.
years ago, when a school went up right next door to Dr. Alam,
a group of Dhanmondi residents, including a number of social
and environmental activists, lawyers, writers and intellectuals,
got together to form the Dhanmondi Poribesh Unnayon Jote (DPUJ).
Since then, the group has been lobbying for the salvage of
Dhanmondi as a residential area.
areas are being destroyed because of the violation of city
zoning regulations which limit non-residential uses,"
says Dr. Alam. She comments that schools, hospitals, etc.,
are shooting up all over the place with the excuse that they
are providing services. Even NGOs and educational institutions
like coaching centres sanctioned by international organisations
are sprouting up everywhere, she adds.
improvement in services, the taxpayers do not know where their
money goes. Even the drains are not cleaned, complain residents.
Instead, the sweepers and other workers employed by the government
put up roadside stalls and shops.
of the DPUJ is two-fold -- social and legal. They are trying
to change people's attitudes while at the same time attempting
to activate the community and making them aware of their rights
-- basically, the right to live in a healthy neighbourhood
environment. DPUJ members believe that people are increasingly
becoming aware of the fact that "environment" is
not only about trees, animals and rivers, but "the surroundings
in which city dwellers find themselves", and that chaotic
city life is also harmful to the physical as well as mental
well-being of people.
the legal aspect, it is one that the DPUJ thinks will be effective
in bringing about change. Currently, the DPUJ has suits filed
against 10 schools, which are the primary focus of the Jote
at this point. Schools not only cause traffic congestion during
school hours but crowding in general and ruin the neighbourhood
environment. Between dropping off and picking up students,
many of the cars stay on, along with the drivers, and the
loitering of non-residents in the area continues from there
into the evening hours. But now, along with the legal suits,
parents of students are also becoming more conscious about
the quality of education and facilities their children deserve
where many schools lack the most basic, like adequate space,
proper toilets and playing fields. Dr. Alam stresses that
we do not need as many schools, but rather, bigger and better
ones which go by the rules and provide proper facilities.
refers to the "illogical overdevelopment" of Dhanmondi
Lake. The design for lakes in residential areas and for lakes
meant to be national centres should obviously be different,
she says. "The government spent 18 crore taka on this
one area, turning it into a national centre for recreation,
when they should have spent it on 18 areas," she says.
She adds that the idea of an open-air theatre in Dhanmondi
is "nuts" and that any open-air theatre should be
in a large park able to take the sound.
of sealing off our residential areas to non-residential use,
we open it up, says Dr. Alam, and big roads, glossy markets
and showy boat clubs are confused with the idea of "progress".
People do not realise that these also mean traffic congestion,
crowds and filth, she points out.
everything every few years, the latest craze of Bangladeshis
is apartment buildings. Everyone is building them, and when
they remain unused (also because people own land in many places
of the city and rent out the most financially viable ones),
they are rented out as offices, schools, etc. People have
vested interests, and even so-called "activists"
sometimes rent out their houses to commercial establishments.
the DPUJ does not have much hope of the government upholding
court orders in legal disputes over the destruction of residential
areas, it does believe that international pressure will help
the situation. If international awareness of the situation
can be created, the wheels will start turning. NGOs and international
organisations which are adding to the destruction will also
be brought to task once global strategy plays in.
believes it has had considerable impact on people and that
this can be seen in the obvious change in people's concepts.
we first started out," recalls Dr. Alam, "people
used to seem embarrassed by our protests. Now they understand
and are themselves protesting." The general people, as
well as architects, city planners and engineers, have come
forward to protest the building of high rises, schools, bridges,
etc., and other projects which would have further destroyed
of the Dhanmondi Poribesh Unnayon Jote realise that change
will take time, but that it will occur. They believe that
there is still hope for Dhanmondi, for it is actually very
organised and has much government capital invested in it.
Some changes in policy and strict enforcement of the law is
required. Changing attitudes towards what is true progress,
increasing awareness of people's rights and what will benefit
them will slowly but eventually begin to bring back a new
and improved Dhanmondi -- perhaps, the Dhanmondi that once
(R) thedailystar.net 2004