While the city is becoming more and more suffocating, while open spaces are shrinking rapidly, Hatirjheel comes as a breath of fresh air. It is the last hope of the city dwellers for some respite and recreation. It is being hailed as the breathing space of the city. Dr. Abu Sayeed M Ahmed, Chairman of the Architecture Department of the University of Asia Pacific, says, 'If the Hatirjheel project can be implemented according to the plan and design, then not only will the appearance of this area change; the entire city will have a facelift. It will increase the beauty of the city.'
The plan is for a water retention body -- in other words, a lake -- to stretch from behind Sonargaon Hotel for four kilometers up till Rampura bridge. An amphitheatre will be constructed on the banks of the lake at the back of Tejgaon Industrial Area. The people can watch performances at the theatre sitting in the open air by the waters of the lake. Then there will be a water deck at Magh Bazar, an open platform for entertainment upon the lake. In the middle of the lake near Badda and West Rampura will be a forested island called Eco-Centre. It will be a haven for all sorts of flora and fauna. People can travel by boat around the island but will not be permitted on it.
There will be water taxies to transport people down the lake. It will take people up till the lake at Gulshan-1. Later this service will be extended up till the lake in Gulshan 2 and Banani. There will be two water taxi terminals, one at Badda and one at Magh Bazar.
The city people will have to wait till 2012 for the Hatirjheel project to be complete. The project was supposed to have been completed by 2010, but that was not possible. Work was delayed due to the lengthy procedures of land acquisition and evicting illegal occupants.
Project and crisis
The Hatirjheel Development Project was taken up all of a sudden. There had been discussions about an elevated road above Hatirjheel. Then suddenly the meeting took a turn and the Hatirjheel Development Project emerged. Initially the Ministry of Public Works was named as the lead ministry and RAJUK as the lead agency of the project, with WASA and LGED as the supporting agencies. RAJUK was given the responsibility if land acquisition, compensation, land excavation, site protection, waste disposal, etc. A budget of 121868.72 lac taka was allocated for the purpose. LGED was given responsibility for construction of a two-lane road by the lake, a two metre wide footpath, a 2.5metre wide walkway, bridge, overpass at Pathapath crossing and landscaping. A budget of 17500 lac was allocated for this. WASA was put in charge of building up the storm water and sanitary drainage system and water supply network. The budget for this was 7797.50 lac taka.
BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) was given the responsibility to run four studies. These were on the drainage system of the Hatirjheel and adjacent areas, the traffic system, low land excavation and road and walkway construction. But debate broke out from the outset of the project as to who would be planning, designing and implementing the project.
Ishrat Islam, Assistant Professor, of BUET's Department of Urban and Regional Planning, told PROBE in 2007 that, 'RAJUK only calls BUET consultants to conduct studies, but not for any plan or design. Even if they are given the responsibility of drawing up a plan, RAJUK doesn't follow the plan. Who knows if this will happen in the case of the Hatirjheel project too?'
At that time architect Ehsan Khan told PROBE, 'I think that BUET consultants can be assigned to conduct studies and maybe come up with guidelines, but plan designs and implementation should go to more experienced consultants.'
The crisis lingers. BUET had conducted the study and submitted its report about an expressway around the lake. In the meantime, Vitti Sthapati Brindo Ltd, DPM, AIA and JB got the responsibility for the project plan and design. The consultant firms, town planners and other architects felt it would not be wise to keep the expressway around the lake. This would entail fast moving transport, preventing the pedestrians and visitors from free movement.
Architect Ehsan Khan says, 'We didn't scrap BUET's proposal entirely; we designed in coordination with their report. Instead of their expressway, we have said a mass transit route will be constructed there. A service way will be by the side of this. Heavy and fast vehicles will use the mass transit route and people will come to the lake by the service way.'
Bangladesh Army has been given the responsibility of implementing the project as the Special Works Organisation. It has been said that if the army had not been given this responsibility, it would have been difficult to actually implement the project, perhaps impossible. Then again, there are those who criticize army involvement in the project.
DCC plan predicament
A project at an estimated cost of 873.50 crore taka named 'Panthapath-Progoti Sarani/Gulshan Avenue Link Road Construction', above Hatirjheel, had been in process under supervision of Dhaka City Corporation. An elevated road was to be constructed under this project. The lake would be underneath. However, on April 5, 2007, at an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by LGRD Advisor Anwarul Iqbal, the discussion turned from the elevated road to roads all around the lake at Hatirjheel. Later the Hatirjheel Development Project and the Panthapath-Progoti Sarani/Gulshan Avenue Link Road Construction Project were merged and proposal for a comparatively less costly 'Construction of Panthapath-Progoti Sarani Gulshan Avenue Link Road Along the Bank of Hatirjheel Project' proposal was drawn up. It was felt the work replication could be avoided and money saved. Later this became the 'Integrated Development of Hatirjheel Area Including Begunbari Khal Project' and this is now being implemented.
Hatirjheel is an example of RAJUK's lack of responsibility and commercial mindset. After taking up the Hatirjheel Development Project, LGED has been playing a strong role in its implementation. Yet this responsibility had been RAJUK's. But RAJUK's preoccupations have always been more with the commercial projects.
Hatirjheel area is 244.74746 acres while Begun Bari Khal area is 30 acres. RAJUK had a proposal to construct a multi-storeyed commercial building on 13 acres of Hatirjheel land, but there is no scope for this now.
In 1997 RAJUK had taken initiative to develop Hatirjheel as a commercial area with a lake. But protests from several quarters prevented this. Ehsan Khan told, 'This was a crazy decision of RAJUK. A commercial area and environmental-friendly activities cannot go hand in hand.'
As it is, Begun Bari canal had been given over for the construction of Hotel Sonargaon, BGMEA Bhaban and Holiday Inn Hotel as well as a petrol pump. All this was contrary to the preservation of Hatirjheel.
Hatirjheel and Begun Bari canal at one time were connected to Dhanmondi Lake. But during Ershad's rule when Panthapath was constructed, a box culvert and box drainage line was placed at the Dhanmondi Lake and Begun Bari intersection. Ehsan Khan told, 'In context of Bangladesh, box culverts and drainage systems do not work. More stress should be placed on natural drainage systems here. Now if there was a connection between the Dhanmondi Lake, Begun Bari canal, Hatirjheel, Mohakhali canal, Gulshan Lake and Banani Lake, this would be a resource and these were all connected at one point of time. It is still possible to link these up, except for perhaps Dhanmondi Lake. That it why it is was so important to develop Hatirjheel.' Demands for Hatirjheel development have been made since 1995.
Dr. Md. Mujibur Rahman, Environmental Engineer of BUET's Civil Engineering Department, 'The fundamental work of this project should be not only to protect the environment, but also to restore the environment which has been destroyed.' This project may also increase the city's drainage retention capacity.'
No heed to Master Plan
DMDP was drawn up for the 1995-2015 term and the Detailed Area Plan was to be done in 2005. Later this was extended till 2008 and then to 2009. Now it is 2010 and the work is still not done. The plan awaits approval at the ministry. But the city development work hasn't been held up. Compromises have been mad in the Detailed Area Plan and more compromises will have to be made with the unplanned developments which have taken place in the meantime.
An officer of Shelltach, the firm in charge of the Detailed Area Plan, says, 'We worked in the area outside of Dhaka, but even there we had to make compromises. So we can well understand the compromises that will have to be made by those working in central Dhaka.'
Ghani Bangla Ltd. is doing the work in central Dhaka. The firm's town planner Md. Amirul Islam says, 'The Hatirjheel Development Project is a government project and this has to be accepted. It will not contradict the Detailed Area Plan.'
In other words, the good initiative of the Hatirjheel Development Project is being implemented outside of the Master Plan. In the original structure plan the flood retention pond for this area has been marked near the river Balu, that is quite far from the city itself.
Whatever these technicalities may be, the people await for the breath of fresh air, for the completion of the Hatirjheel project.