Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the local government, rural development and cooperatives ministry to work out a master plan for every upazila for protecting cultivable land and checking the unplanned construction of buildings, roads and houses on croplands.
At a meeting in the secretariat, she said the country needs to design a master plan for every upazila setting aside places for fields, schools and colleges, small industrial estates and cultivable land. If this can be done properly, people will accept it, she said.
Bangladesh has now graduated to a developing country from the group of least developed countries as the government has been able to complete a lot of development work in the last 12 years after coming to power in 2009.
Alongside ensuring safe drinking water, sanitation and development of rural roads for the rural people, the local government ministry has also many tasks, including ensuring drainage and waste management and stopping environment pollution in the urban areas, the Prime Minister said.
Meanwhile, the inter-ministerial committee reviewing the detailed area plan (DAP) recommended that the 'water body' and 'open space' spanning not more than 20 kathas, as earmarked in the DAP, could be converted to urban residential zone or institutional zone, as required.
Another review committee approved in principle the changes in the land use plan for three residential projects - one each of the armed forces, the police and government officials - and approved two other projects changing the original land use plan of the area plan.
However, the committee's decision to change the land use plan, according o experts, is contrary to the spirit of the plan. If these projects are approved, they say the government will be forced to approve all of the projects taken on flood flow zones and water bodies that it (the government) has not so far approved considering their environmental impact.
On its part, however, RajdhaniUnnayanKartipakhya (RAJUK) said one of the three projects would be developed on an area fully marked as flood-flow zone, one would partially encroach upon what is designated as water retention area and the other on an area identified as water body in the detailed area plan.
Terming the review committee's approval for the change in the land use plan 'a deceptive move of the government,' experts say how could the review committee allow the conversion of flood flow zones and water bodies to urban residential zones as the prime minister herself said that none of the water bodies and flood flow zones will be allowed to be destroyed?
The committee also suggested that the authorities should take cognisance of applications submitted by a number of stakeholders for change in the land use plan in preparing the next detailed area plan, now being worked on, for 2016-2035. It had received about 1,200 applications seeking changes in the DAP layout in different places and 1,094 of them remain unresolved as yet.
However, the incumbent land minister justified the committee's stand for approval of the housing projects either on flood flow zones, sub-flood flow zones or water retention areas saying that the review committee was asked to remove 'inconsistencies' in the area plan. And that is why the committee has taken a 'pragmatic' move to change the land use plan.
There is no denying that the government has the right to plan and implement residential projects for the armed forces, the police and former civil servants. But that should not be made at the expense of the environment. Moreover, there appears to be inadequate, or even lack of, understanding, on the part of the government about the necessity for flood-flow zone, water retention point and water bodies as marked in the detailed area plan.
The flood-flow zone is required not only for preventing inundation of the city but also for replenishment of the ground aquifers, which have witnessed a serious decline in recent years.
Mention may be made that the DAP could not be implemented as the government lacked commitment and courage to enforce it against powerful quarters. No administrative framework had either been instituted to implement the plan due to poor leadership of the housing and public works ministry. Like the existing plan the new DAP is going to become another tool for promoting illegal development schemes.
Soon after the final DAP was published in official gazette after two reviews, the government formed the ministerial committee with the mandate to 'finalise the DAP on detailed review in the face of fierce opposition from powerful real estate developers,. Many expressed their surprise over the formation of the ministerial committee and said why a committee should be formed when it had already been finalised twice.
Defending the formation of the committee, the then state minister in charge of housing and public works said the DAP was being implemented as a continuous process considering the practical situation. The plan can be changed or amended, as it is no holy book, he said. Surprisingly, the minister, at the beginning, loudly advocated for enforcing the DAP against all odds.
On their part, real estate developers wanted DAP modification in a way that would ensure growth of the real estate sector. They said the government should also think of alternative ways to save wetlands inside the city, while the directions kept in the DAP to save wetlands are not practical any longer. They claimed that the DAP was prepared on the basis of a design made in 1992, but the city in the design and the today's city is not the same any more.
Realtors further say the ways the government plans to save the wetlands across Dhaka and its neighbouring areas are not practical. Nobody can destroy any building overnight to revive a canal or river, they said and termed the DAP a short-sighted plan. According to realtors, the government needs to formulate a master plan with a long-term vision. They suggested that the government should ensure a balance between protecting environment and the interest of the real estate sector as well.
However, for all practical purposes, the government does need to realise that the vested interests should not be allowed to enjoy benefits at the expense of the liveability of a city already home to over 16 million people. One gets really frustrated to see how the resources are being destroyed gradually compromising the environmental and social justice issues in the name of development. There should be strict enforcement of rules to save wetland in and around the city in particular to the letter and in spirit.
The environment of the city is deteriorating fast due to rampant pollution, encroachment, denudation of green cover, etc. Something must otherwise be done to improve the situation. The detailed area plan should not otherwise be violated with disdain. What is needed at this stage is that the government should enforce compliance with the plan, not encourage its distortion.