BEN Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 40 September 30, 2012
According to recent news, Rajdhani Unnayan Kortipakka (Rajuk) –previously known as Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) — has started work on preparing a 20-year Master Plan for Dhaka with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This was revealed by Rajuk Chairman Nurul Huda at a workshop on the ADB report, “Regional Planning and Administration.” Mr. Huda also informed that to make its services more easily available, Rajuk would add new offices in Savar, Gazipur, Keraniganj and Narayanganj, in addition to the four offices Rajuk already has in Dhaka.
Before a new master plan is formulated, it is important that the experience of the current Master Plan is properly evaluated. It hardly remains to be said that the experience of implementation of the current Master Plan has been highly unsatisfactory. The “Detailed Area Plan (DAP),” which is the key instrument for implementing the current Master Plan (that includes DMDP Structural plan and the Urban Area Plan) faced significant opposition from private land developers and construction companies. Some of these companies, in fact, aggressively confronted the State Minister of Housing and Public Works, Mr. Abdul Mannan on this matter. Disregarding this opposition, the Minister took the initiative to finalize the DAP and gazette it.
Well informed sources have, however, informed that, despite being gazetted, the DAP could not be implemented properly. One consequence of this has been the drying up of Dhaka’s wetlands, as the Additional Secretary of Local Government and Rural Development, Swapan Kumar, observed in the ADB workshop. While Dhaka had large areas of wetlands inside the city and in its environs until the late 1970s, these have all dried up, leading to an acute drop in groundwater and frequent water logging in the city. No doubt, this is an important reason why the Economist magazine, based on its recent global survey of cities, declared Dhaka to be the most unlivable city in the world. Also in the same ADB workshop, minister Abdul Mannan noted that the coordination was acutely lacking in Bangladesh’s urban planning and development as indicated by the nearly 50 government agencies that are engaged in managing Dhaka city. But this is also why the recent decision of the Government to divide Dhaka City into two corporations is so surprising. This splitting will make the coordination problem even more acute.
On the other hand, there has been no initiative to address Rajuk’s own contradictory and dual roles. Rajuk is, at the same time, the regulator and implementer of own land development and housing projects. In several cases Rajuk’s own projects (e.g. Purbanchol and Uttara-3) violate DAP. Private developers are taking full advantage of Rajuk’s contradictory roles. Not only is there no initiative to resolve these burning problems, Ministers and MPs are, on the contrary, busy trying to get multiple plots from Rajuk.
The reason for introducing a new master plan without first addressing the failures of the current plan is well known. Across the board, Government agencies have the incentives for obtaining new credit and aid from external lenders and aid agencies by introducing new projects. Government officials make legal or illegal gains from these new projects, while the burden of debt on the people rises. There is little interest on the part of government officials, therefore, to evaluate the impact of past projects and plans before introducing new ones.
In view of the above, there is little reason for the people to rejoice at the news of a new Master Plan for Dhaka. There will be no gain for the people from introducing a new plan financed by foreign credit that funds expensive foreign advisers but fails to resolve the many serious policy failures of the country. Instead of introducing a new plan, there first needs to be a thorough discussion in the country why the current master plan could not be implemented properly.