The capital city appears to be destined to suffer from irreversible planning and environmental disaster, as the government has failed to implement the detailed area plan (DAP) and allowed unplanned development and destruction of wetlands.
The DAP, through which the capital's master plan was supposed to be implemented, indicates every structure, lake, canal, wetland, retention pond, road, open space and all topographical features, and outlines designated land use.
Its 20-year official tenure comes to an end in 2015. The government is now working on a new detailed area plan for the next two decades.
The DAP had not been implemented, as the government lacked commitment and courage to enforce it against powerful quarters, said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela).
No administrative framework had either been instituted to implement the plan, she said, blaming pathetic leadership of the housing and public works ministry. "The government is neither inclusive nor transparent in making decisions to this end.
"Like the existing plan the new DAP will also become another tool for promoting illegal development schemes," observed Rizwana.
On September 15, 2012, ruling party lawmaker and President of Real Estate and Housing Association Bangladesh Nasrul Hamid Bipu told a seminar: "I predicted that the DAP implementation would not be possible and it has come true ultimately."
Meanwhile, the DAP expert committee had recommended reclamation of more than 2,500 acres of flood flow zones and agricultural land from unauthorised housing projects.
Of the 1,528-square kilometre of plan area, 32 percent [approximately 488 sq-km] has been earmarked for flood flow zones, water retention and water bodies.
The expert committee also suggested relocation of nearly 3,000 industries and scrapping of 16 development projects.
But on the contrary, hundreds of industries have been set up in Savar and Ashulia, on the outskirts of the capital, where there should only be homesteads and agricultural land as per the DAP.
The Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), guardian of the master plan for Dhaka city, however, has not yet taken any initiative to carry out the recommendations.
Rajuk Chairman Md Nurul Huda said implementation of the recommendations depended on the decision of a seven-member cabinet committee. The committee, headed by LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, has so far met once in August 2010.
However, Rajuk was complying with the DAP in the ongoing development works, said its chief.
Noted urban researcher Prof Nazrul Islam said Rajuk might have followed DAP in cases of private residential buildings, but that does not count as a tangible implementation.
"As a result, adverse development is taking place at the cost of environment," he said.
In June 2010, the final DAP was published in official gazette after two reviews. But in the face of fierce opposition from powerful real estate developers, the government immediately formed the ministerial committee with the mandate to "finalise the DAP on detailed review".
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, head of the expert committee to review DAP, said, "It is not understandable what the ministerial committee would finalise when it had already been finalised twice."
He said many people had lobbied for accommodating housing schemes of powerful real estate developers after the plan was finalised for the first time.
State Minister for Housing and Public Works Abdul Mannan Khan said "The DAP is being implemented as a continuous process considering practical situation."
"But the plan can be changed or amended, as it is no holy book," said Mannan, who at the outset advocated for enforcing the DAP against all odds.
Last year, the housing ministry and Rajuk pro-actively endorsed half a dozen illegal private housing schemes, which were developed by destroying wetlands, croplands and rural homesteads mostly on the city's eastern fringe and were later declared illegal by the High Court.
Nearly half the designated flood flow zones and water retention ponds in the capital are owned by general people and the authorities should urgently acquire those, said an official source, adding that it would be irreversible if the character of a landscape is changed with adverse development.
Urban planners fear that the subsequent impact will cause food crisis, floods and health hazards.
Dhaka would face large-scale disaster if its water bodies were destroyed by earth-filling at the present rate, according to Prof Sarwar Jahan, who teaches urban and regional planning at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Although DAP was required by the year 2000 as a tool for implementing Dhaka's master plan, Rajuk delayed it for a decade in the face of realtors' opposition.
The delay helped filling-up of vast wetlands, flood retention ponds and open spaces.