Demolition of illegal structures

Sunday, 10 January 2021

A demolition drive targeting illegal structures has been on for nearly a couple of weeks in the capital. Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka North City Corporation are conducting the campaigns. The structures include many commercial sites, including shops at super-markets. Illegally set up business outlets elsewhere are also not spared. The apparently unsparing drives have delighted many city dwellers, as these are expected to help provide Dhaka with the much sought-after space of relief, especially in the adjacent areas and on the busy roads. To many victims, the drives came as a bolt from the blue. Until they find alternative sites to resume their commercial and other trade-related activities, they face uncertainties about their future. One hopes this receives due consideration. 

It's undeniable that the congested and dingy atmosphere of areas in Dhaka stems from unplanned buildings, along with their extensions, standing in stifling clusters. Many cities around the world have densely constructed commercial buildings in their older parts. But those manage to be in place for long because of their legality granted by the authorities concerned. They have valid papers, which allow their owners to operate certain activities at those establishments. A number of structures in Dhaka have been constructed with owners making changes to the design approved by the city corporations --- in some cases by the city development authorities. Many others have been erected without any plan at all. Those owners, allegedly, are blessed by a section of local and political heavyweights. As has been seen several times in the past, the two city corporations often swoop on the illegally constructed parts of commercial buildings, or the whole structure. Some of them are multi-storey, accommodating clothing shops, outlets of electronic goods, myriad types of petty businesses, coaching centres and clinics. A large segment on the ground floor remains reserved for motor and motorbike repairs.

 After the demolition campaigns, the affected shop owners find themselves in limbo for some time before they can resume activity at some other city areas. Few enterprises renting shopping spaces at the 'super-markets' bother to check out on the legal status of the onrushing space seekers. As seen in these cases, businesses hiring a space in the dubiously constructed complexes and their annexes are mostly low- and middle-income people. With the buildings evicted or demolished, it's them who finally bear the brunt. Building owners somehow manage to remain unscathed. Before such eviction drives, the two city corporation authorities may consider alerting renters repeatedly prior to their final action. It might save them from the losses incurred during a hastily done evacuation, and relocation to a new site.

Compared to the mind-boggling number of renters running their businesses from illegally built buildings, the ongoing eviction drive is a tip of the ice-berg. Such unlawful structures are ubiquitously present all across the city. Any plan to completely free the capital of this menace warrants herculean capability. Besides, there are 'special cases'. Given these limitations, the city corporations had better follow the path of pragmatism. It means, the drive to keep the unwieldy city under control should continue in a planned way. No doubt, the city corporation authorities are committed to their goal of transforming Dhaka into an ideal city. In carrying out this task, there is little scope for them to be messy.