Despite a recent claim of the government that Dhaka will be transformed into a modern and liveable city, the proposed Detailed Area Plan (DAP) for the capital is facing severe criticism from architects and urban planners.
This was viewed by the experts at a press conference in the city who spoke at length about the flaws in the DAP draft, which has been formulated by two consulting firms under a work order by RajdhaniUnnayanKatripakkha (Rajuk).
The government has reorganised the cabinet committee to finalise the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) prepared by the RajdhaniUnnayanKartipokkho (RAJUK) following its detailed review.
There is a clear point in the Terms of Reference for preparation of the DAP, which mentions demarcating rivers, canals, water bodies, water retention and catchment areas based on surveys done during the British and Pakistani eras and mouja maps. The draft DAP has ignored this point, and proposed a modification in the classification of flood flow zones, they added.
Flood flow zones are areas which typically remain dry, but store water during rainy season. These are essential to prevent water logging in the city.
The draft DAP proposes two separate terms for the current zones -- primary waterbody and general water body. This draft mentions allowing construction on the general water bodies, which will be severely detrimental to the city and its people.
Upon implementation of such plans, the city will risk losing 70 per cent of its water bodies, and the proportion of flood flow zones will be reduced to 17 percent. The 1997 structure plan intended to keep 66 percent flood flow zones.
Analysts pointed out multiple loopholes in the proposed draft, which includes withdrawal of the mandatory provision of keeping car parking facilities in buildings.
Experts say the draft DAP proposes a community parking system, but does not specify where and how they will arrange the land for such a parking system. So this proposition may end in cars occupying more space on the roads due to the lack of parking in the buildings.
There are many roads in and around Dhaka that are too narrow and in need of development. With the expansion of urbanisation, not extending these roads even by a minimum level will be a suicidal decision for the city's development, said the experts.
Experts proposed enlisting 2,200 structures that the court has declared protection for, as heritage sites in the DAP. At present, the number of heritage buildings of Dhaka is steadily declining as businesses and other entities continue to encroach and demolish the structures.
They also pointed out that this DAP draft does not evaluate the failures and successes of the previous DAP, which should be an essential step before undertaking a new plan.
The draft also incorrectly cites the Dhaka Metropolitan Building Construction Rules-2008 as "obstructive", said the experts. The 2008 rule dictates that every building must have some specific amount of open space to allow sunlight and wind to pass through for healthy ventilation.
In the new DAP, only five percent area has been designated as purely residential, while the rest will be a mix of residential and commercial. If this is approved, the entire city save government spaces and private residences will become commercial, they observed.
In the proposed DAP, they have kept a provision to allow constructions that deviate from the building codes and do not have approval. All they have to do is pay a fine. This sets a bad precedent for everyone, they added.
Despite over 4.0 million people living in slums, the DAP laysno emphasis on low-cost housing facilities for low-income and poor people.
The experts urged the government to extend the deadline for finalising the DAP and take the opinions of experts, stakeholders, and the public for a thorough examination of the draft.
Meanwhile, the inter-ministerial committee reviewing 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.
The review committee at its meeting 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 the government has not so far approved considering their environmental impact.
On its part, however, 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 prepared. 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.
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.
Soon after the 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.
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.
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 theinterest of the real estate sector as well.
The environment of the city is deteriorating fast due to rampant pollution, encroachment, denudation of green cover, etc. Something must 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 that the government should enforce compliance with the plan, not encourage its distortion.