The Gulshan Society (GS) voters are getting ready for something for which the national election voters are praying to the Almighty, an opportunity to vote in an election without interference or intimidation. The election of GS is going to be held on September 01. So far, the spirit surrounding the election is everything that makes an election not just the most important element of any organisation, society or government but also so much fun and gaiety.
For the last few weeks, contestants for the Executive Committee and other posts of the GS have been approaching voters for votes. The contestants have also grouped themselves into two panels. One has been given a very catchy name - Bhalobashar Gulshan - a name that I am told was given by a past president of the Society who was also a very able civil servant of the country. This panel is being backed by the Society's outgoing president, the former Chief Election Commissioner Dr ATM Shamsul Huda. He is vacating the position because of term limit in GS' by-laws.
Gulshan Society will miss Dr Huda's leadership. His Executive Committee had worked hand in glove with the much-admired late Mayor of North Dhaka Annisul Huq bringing visible changes to Gulshan at a time when it was fast sliding to become the Aleppo of Bangladesh. The sewage lines that were being laid under the inner roads of Gulshan that had given Gulshan the Aleppo look, have been completed. The sidewalks have been built in a manner that has given Gulshan a beauty that it did not have before. Banning the public bus from Gulshan has reduced travelling time on the Avenue by half that though still unacceptable has brought some relief to Gulshan residents. And removing the hawkers and rickshaws from the Avenue were also no mean achievements that have lessened congestion and given the Avenue a cleaner look.
Sakawat Abu Mohammad Khair, the immediate past president of Gulshan Club that he had led very successfully, will succeed Dr Huda. He has been elected uncontested. He will bring to GS his vast experience as a successful leader of the private sector. He is campaigning for his panel to which he has not given a name. The campaign so far, both panel- and individual-wise, has been healthy although Gulshan residents would have been happy if the two panels had sorted out any difference that made them divide and had united instead. Nevertheless, the healthy way in which the panels and the contestants have approached the voters, augurs well for Gulshan. They all have the collective good of Gulshan at heart.
The late Mayor and the outgoing GS committee have laid the foundations of a vision for Gulshan. The new committee would do itself and Gulshan a great deal of good if they built upon that vision. The traffic problem is still the bane of Gulshan. The traffic conditions in the inner roads have worsened in recent times because of the absurdness with which traffic from the artery of inner roads fall into the Avenue and come out of it. For instance, these days it often takes 30 to 45 minutes going from one of Gulshan's inner roads to the Avenue or coming from the Avenue to an inner road, a distance that could be covered in a few minutes of walking. A state of utter pandemonium often prevails at various times of the day on Gulshan's inner roads.
One-way approaches out of the Avenue and into it have been tried selectively and unsuccessfully thus far to deal with the pandemonium on Gulshan's inner roads. But the one-way approach nevertheless has to be the way out. The problem must however be left to the professionals to resolve to get the best result. I lived in Tokyo for four years and found during my stay there that only the main roads of Tokyo (like Gulshan Avenue in our instance) are used for both ways traffic and most of the inner roads of the city are one-way, roads that are narrower than the inner roads of Gulshan. Yet by implementing the one-way system professionally, Tokyo does not face the nightmare we Gulshan residents face on the inner roads because the GS has introduced the one-way system half-heartedly, partially and very unprofessionally.
Gulshan's major problem is, of course, the greed of a few of its residents who with the connivance of the authorities - Rajuk in particular - have transformed the once idyllic, beautiful and quiet residential district into the commercial hub of the country over the last few decades. In doing so, the nexus comprising Rajuk and relevant government officials, the real estate developers, banks and of course the greedy Gulshan residents had just one intention, to use Gulshan and its real estate potentials to make fabulous amounts of money at the expense of the miseries of the peace-loving residents of Gulshan. It is only a matter of time that the bubble that the nexus has created in Gulshan by inflating real estate prices is going to burst as it had in Tokyo in the early 1990s where real estate prices were inflated in the same manner as in Gulshan.
Meanwhile, the harm of this nexus cannot be undone anymore but efforts could be made to make Gulshan livable if the residents cooperate and use the GS as its flagship. The new GS to be elected on September 01 should look at traffic as a major problem of Gulshan residents and consider one-way traffic professionally to restore sanity in the inner roads of Gulshan. Shops and restaurants have started to come up again on the inner roads that are poisoning Gulshan's traffic management outside the Avenue. Schools on the inner roads that were life-threatening cancer to Gulshan have largely disappeared. The new committee should keep strict vigilance that new schools do not appear again and the few that still remain, disappear.
Gulshan should take some cue from some of the other residential areas of Dhaka and immediately stop its inner roads from being used as transit roads by non-Gulshan residents. DOHS, Baridhara, for instance, does not allow anyone other than its own residents to use its roads for going through it to other destinations but they come and go through Gulshan as they like. The new GS committee should ensure that Baridhara DOHS residents enter Gulshan through the Airport road like they force the Gulshan residents to do but allow themselves to enter Gulshan near the United Hospital. Banani, Baridhara have gates to close its inner roads to control traffic. Residents of Gulshan adjacent to Niketan suffer nightmares because Niketan residents use Gulshan Road number 1 and 2 to transit to Gulshan Avenue instead of accessing Gulshan Avenue near Aarong. A gate should close Niketan traffic using Road no 2 for transit.
The GS had to fight tooth and nail to save Gulshan's South Park from land grabbers who wanted to uproot the cleaners who were temporarily located there. The Park is now called the Gulshan-Niketan Park! Surely the residents of Gulshan and Niketan do not pay the same municipal taxes and the higher rate in Gulshan is due to the additional facilities such as parks, for instance. And talking of facilities, it is now open knowledge how the two lakes in Gulshan have been shrunk by land grabbers with Rajuk's connivance. A look at the size and shape of the plots on the edge of the two lakes on the Gulshan side would reveal unmistakably that these plots were not in the original plan of Gulshan and have been grabbed.
Bhalobashar Gulshan will not land upon Gulshan's residents from heaven. The Gulshan residents and the new committee must be vigilant that the rich residents restrain their greed or are forced to do so. Perhaps, the GS could encourage these rich people to finance projects for good of Gulshan to repay some of the damages they have done like building skyscrapers on plots which were meant for use of a handful of people and at the maximum for two to three cars. Now on many such small plots, there are shopping malls!
The new committee could encourage them and also undertake on their own initiatives such as making Gulshan free of mosquitoes; completing the Gulshan Lakes falling into the Hatirjheel that has been stalled for unknown reasons and are now the breeding ground for mosquitoes that cause both Chikungunya and Dengue. The exposed garbage depot is a huge eyesore, a health risk and source of filth and stench on the southern end of Gulshan Avenue that the new committee must attend urgently. It should hold the Town Hall-type meeting that the outgoing committee had held early this year to get Gulshan residents on board about what they expect of them. Gulshan Society could contribute a great deal to achieving Bhalobashar Gulshan but only if Gulshan residents become its members that they are not at present.
M. Serajul Islam is a former Ambassador.
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