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   Volume 10 |Issue 46 | December 09, 2011 |


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Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Two-in-one City

Syed Maqsud Jamil

Dhaka has become a crowded city. Its population has crossed the 10 million mark. According to world population statistics Dhaka is the 21st most populous city of the world with 10,979,000 people. Unofficial estimates state that the figure is much higher. Influx of people from all over the country is going on. Besides, the city has spread in all direction, new localities keep coming up on wetlands and water bodies. There are areas like Dholpur, Mirhajirbagh, Satarkul, Abdullahbagh, and Kalachandpur with which the city dwellers were not familiar with even two decades ago. These habitations, even Badda in the northeast mostly grew up as unplanned settlements with the city planners' passive, if not collusive, stance. A high-rise scramble further compounded the matter. Dhaka has more vehicles than it can cope with. To make matters worse the city roads and highways are not befitting of a megapolis that Dhaka has become. All these things happened with governance not taking proper note of it.

The vivisection of Dhaka?

The present government has a proclivity for grandiose plans. Its urgency has increased because the national poll is only two years away. It proceeded with plans of building a bridge over the river Padma. After the imbroglio over the funding of the bridge it is talking of two bridges over the river, Padma-1 and Padma-2 under public-private funding arrangement. It is also talking of a new international airport. The latest of the grandiose plan is splitting Dhaka city into two zones with two city corporations.

The vivisection is quite bizarre considering the examples in practice in the major capitals of the world and in the absence of empowering the governance of the city. The nearest to it is Delhi. It is the second largest city of India and 8th largest of the world with a population of 18,8680,00 people. National Capital Territory of Delhi consists of 9 districts; North, Northwest, Northeast, West, Central, New Delhi, East, Southwest and South. Delhi has three municipal corporations – Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Municipal Council of New Delhi and Delhi Cantonment Board. Chief Minister is the elected administrative head of Delhi with an elected legislative body. A lieutenant governor appointed by the central government is the titular head of Delhi.

For greater kinship Kolkata will be an interesting example. Kolkata Municipal Corporation is a unitary body. The Kolkata Corporation has 141 administrative wards and 15 boroughs. Councilors are elected to the wards, so is the Mayor, the head of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The motto of Kolkata Municipal Corporation is in Bengali – Puroshree Bibardhan (Continuous improvement of civic beauty).

Then what could possibly be the major consideration behind the decision of splitting Dhaka into two zones and two corporations. Since governments are all about governance the decision can as well be a better management of the city. Since the management of city involves both revenue and expenditure, the capital cost of setting up a new full-fledged city corporation in another part of the city will be like putting another straw to the camel's back. Besides who can ignore the 'bleeding factor' of cost overrun in the initial stage. There may be a ready answer to counter it; that the two corporations can be administered from the existing city corporation building. That will be crowding and cluttering of highest order in a bloated organisation known for its sloppy performance.

Dhaka is getting bigger and it is not vested organisationally to provide utility services, like water supply, sewerage facilities, electricity and gas. It is not possible for the city governance body to function like a comprehensive civic service provider without these utility services under its operational ambit. The need of a metropolitan government was voiced by the two elected mayors the city had. Besides the metropolitan governing body if it is to meet the hopes of the city dwellers, it needs to be endowed with a workable degree of decentralisation. Without it the vivisection of a city getting bigger cannot be a sound proposition by any canons of good metropolitan governance.

The other thing that can be done for Dhaka in smaller scale and which is already being pursued to some extent is to lighten the load of the city corporation by forming municipalities out of the new settlements.

There is another line of thinking that finds a covert motive behind the decision of dividing Dhaka into two zones and two city corporations. The motive is believed to be electoral consideration and the expediency of a stage managed election where the opponent is a fellow traveller or of hedging the bets against reversal of fortune. It will be a grossly partisan decision, embedded with the inevitability of being overturned if the other party is returned to power. Such a political ploy will be against the broader interest of building durable basis for national institutions essential for good governance. For the very nature of national institutions demand broader consensus and understanding across the political divide.

The Arab rulers in the arrogance of everlasting continuity for their rule did not build institutions or built ones to serve them. They did not realise that durable national institutions are safety valves against calamities that can put the country under stress and reject them. By comparison Bangladesh is in a much better situation but narrow considerations and acts of indiscretion can change that all.

The decision of a two-in-one city appears to be an act of desperation and its merits are not inspirational. By this numerical stratagem Dhaka's neighbouring city Kolkata, more populous at that, should have two city corporations; Mumbai the most populous city of India with nearly 20 million people should have even more city corporations. What should happen to Tokyo – a city of 32.4 million people?

A capital city showcases the organisational standard of a country and the excellence of its efforts. It is naturally a prime consideration for the country and for the government in particular. Nothing can harm it more than partisan interest detrimental to its organisational independence and stability. The example in the South Asian region is Karachi a city of 11.8 million people. It has become a fiefdom of feuding ethnic groups. In 1978 Karachi Metropolitan area was divided into five districts each with a municipal corporation. Syed Mustafa Kamal of Mohajir Quami Mahaj MQM was elected the Mayor of Karachi in 2001 under a new setup. Now it is City District Government of Karachi CDGK with Mustafa Kamal gone.

Splitting Dhaka into two zones and two city corporations may end up as a bizarre institutional restructuring devoid of qualitative improvement and surely lacking in value of permanence.


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