The suggestion put forward for bringing urban development initiatives and utility services under one single umbrella in deliberations on the inaugural day of the six-day International Conference on Urban and Regional Planning (ICURP) reinforces the argument in favour of city governments. But the deliberations on this subject had also seen a paradigm shift when the emphasis was put on developing municipal areas and townships all across the country with the provision of comparable urban amenities including quality educational institutions, healthcare facilities, decent markets and space and facilities for recreation. Clearly, the recommendations advanced at the conference organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BPI) with support from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GiZ), have taken into account the stark realities that, more often than not, fail to deliver the goods. While the emphasis is on integration of development works including utility services in urban areas under an elected local government authority, there is a pragmatic suggestion for decentralisation of urban development.
About the merit of both these arrangements, there should be no doubt. A lack of coordination between different agencies has often led to overlaps and repeat of development works, causing immense suffering to people and waste of resources and money. If one agency carpets the road today, another just digs it the next day leaving gaping holes that pose risk to life. The death of a man and a university girl student following their slip into a ditch in Chattogram and another person's rescue from a ditch-like canal after several hours of his missing in Dhaka's Mirpur area are a grim reminder of the danger facing inhabitants on account of unsafe and shoddy development works undertaken. If such things can happen in the capital city and the port city, how other metropolises and municipalities fare is anybody's guess.
There is no point concentrating development of infrastructure and facilities within the limits of two to six cities. Development parameter demands devolution for fairness and sustainability. This is where equitable distribution of amenities to small townships and urban centres makes sense. What stands in the way of developing infrastructure and other facilities there is the lack of enough fund collection. But a closer scrutiny will reveal that different localities have their own strong points and economic bases that need to be cultivated. For example, areas producing raw materials for a particular type of industry should be given the priority for establishing production units of that particular kind. This will augment revenue income for the small townships all over the country.
The bottom line is to strike a balance between urban development and improvement of living standard in rural areas. Although the government has undertaken an ambitious scheme titled, "My Village My Town", aimed at creating urban amenities in rural setting, it will take time to have firm roots. British countryside is preferable for living to the Britons because all the modern amenities are there. Additionally, the environment is peaceful, healthier and pleasant. At the end of the day's work in cities and towns they retire to their loving abodes. Both income and living standard have to go through a sea-change before anything comparable happens in this country.