An Area in Neglect
One of the biggest banes of travelling out of Dhaka is passing through Jatrabari in the DND (Dhaka-Narayanganj-Demra) area because of the endless, miserable gridlock that has become a regular feature of this place. Very few commuters, however, really think of this area more than just a compulsory ordeal they must go through to get anywhere. But, according to a local police station, the DND area is home to 10 to 12 lakh people in 8,340 hectares of land. Others say the number of residents is around 30 lakh. The DND area constitutes of four thanas: Narayanganj Sadar, Demra, Jatrabari and Shampur. No exact figure of the population living in this region is available.
Although an extension of the capital, the area is an extremely neglected one. Indiscriminate construction is probably the prime culprit behind all the problems of this area.
Eighty-year-old Haji Mosharraf Ali who lives in Dania, an area within Shampur upazila for many generations, says: “Damaged roads and sewerage problems are rampant in this part of Dhaka. Roads are so damaged that they have become almost unusable and risky for the residents, most of whom are service holders and students, to go to office and schools or colleges wading through waist-deep water during the rainy season.”
He points out the water is polluted, it creates an unbearable condition for the local people. He alludes to September 2004 when the DND project area experienced prolonged water logging by the excessive rainfall in September 2004 that lasted for 42 days. It required continuous pumping to make the area flood free.
Being underdeveloped, house rent is relatively lower than other parts of Dhaka thus attracting people from the low and middle income groups, mainly service holders. With a high demand for lower cost housing, house owners have been happily building homes irrespective of the limited civic facilities and destruction of the environment. There is not a single playground for the children of such a huge population.
Another reason why this chaotic area attracts families is that it is the location for one of the best Bangla medium schools in Dhaka– Dania AK High School & College.
The DND project was executed during 1962-68 as Flood Control Drainage and Irrigation (FCDI) project with the national goal for fulfilling self-reliance of food grains. According to the original project plan, FCDI facilities were provided in the central area presently surrounded by Dhaka-Narayanganj-Demra road and irrigation coverage along the northern segment of Dhaka-Demra Road.
Although the government at that period wanted to make this area an exclusive irrigation zone, later low and middle class people started to live here. As the area was not developed, so price was relatively cheap. Land use pattern of the DND area was changed from the originally planned one. Most of the agricultural land was transformed into residential or industrial plots and roads with the rapid urbanisation process. Many of the important khals (canals) and drains were encroached by unauthorised dwellers.
The generated runoff has increased much more than the originally designed runoff due to change in land use pattern, making the existing drainage system inadequate for effective drainage. Ministry of Water Resources has prepared a renovation project of around Tk 250 crore with the assistance of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB). This project includes embankment upgrading, renovation of existing and addition of new pump stations, excavation and or re-excavation of khals and providing khal-crossing structure, etc. This project is now waiting for the government's approval.
Another important factor about the DND is that some part of this zone is beyond any official authority. Although it is a union council, the last election of Dania was held 22 years ago. As a result, no one can say who will take charge of the development of this area. Practically the Member of Parliament (MP) is doing some reconstruction work. It is still undecided whether the election of this large union council would take place or not. Due to this bureaucratic hassle, there has been no development work for a long time.
The construction works of the Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover have made the traffic jams onger and more frequent. Photo: Shafiqul Alam
Jatrabari is a very crucial junction to get into or to get out of Dhaka. Around a hundred thousand people, who have to cross this important junction everyday, have first hand experience of the sufferings while crossing this intersection of five roads. People from Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Sonargaon, Narsingdi and Dhaka have to cross Jatrabari everyday to reach their workplace. Normally they have to pass two to three hours in traffic congestion to reach their destination.
To ease the traffic congestion, the government has taken the initiative to build a flyover from Jatrabari to Gulistan. The construction work has added another problem for the residents of the DND area. Now the traffic jams are longer and more frequent. Sometimes commuters take five hours to reach their destination. To avoid this drivers of public buses are reluctant to go to Jatrabari or the adjacent places nowadays. Many passers-by become sick while crossing this junction due to dust clouds created by the flyover construction works.
Habibur Rahman Mollah, MP of Dhaka 4 constituency says: “There is no comprehensive plan about developing the roads and the DND area currently. It is not possible for an MP only to reconstruct all the roads at a time. It is the responsibility of the LGRD ministry.” To the question of unplanned development of houses the MP responds: “When the DND was vacant, no one was able to think that it would become so densely populated in such a short period. As the buildings are already developed, bringing DND under planned development is impossible now.”
Regarding the fact that the Dania Union Council is not under any authority the MP says:, “The government has a plan to take the DND under the Dhaka City Corporation as a part of its expansion programme. If it does not happen before the next Union Council elections, Dania will take part in this election.”
Despite of all these limitations within the DND area, the good news is that a large number of students get admission at the best colleges and universities of Dhaka, like Viqarunnisa Noon College, Notredame College and Dhaka University, the best university of the country.
If the relevant authorities do not give immediate attention to this part of extended Dhaka, its condition will be worse than old Dhaka. Immediate action is essential to make this part of Dhaka liveable.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010