Master plan needed to offset decades of unplanned urbanisation

Zaman Monir . Sylhet | Published: 00:16, May 10,2019


Long tailbacks are a regular phenomenon on Sylhet roads today.

Water has become the main reason of anxiety for the people of Sylhet city, known as the spiritual capital of the country, as they have been suffering for decades due to acute shortage of drinking water. This is due to shortage in supply, on the one hand, and on another, waterlogging during every rainy season leads to the intensification of the problem.
Besides, traffic congestion in the city streets also turned into a common phenomenon, causing waste of working hours of the city’s residents day in and day out.
Experts and city dwellers blamed unplanned development activities run by the Sylhet City Corporation for the sufferings that forced the residents to lead a miserable life year after year.
They alleged that the city corporation has been spending hundreds of crores of taka in different development projects in the city every year to diminish the crisis of drinking water, end the trouble of waterlogging and traffic congestion. But there has been no noticeable result since these schemes were not being implemented in a planned manner, they said.
With an area of 27 square miles, Sylhet city is home to around one million residents at present.
Demand of potable water is also been rising in the urban areas as the population is increasing rapidly.
The city corporation failed to bring all parts of its 27 wards under a single water supply system, though more than 18 years have passed following the upgrading of the erstwhile Sylhet Municipality into the Sylhet City Corporation.
According to the data available with the city corporation, four wards, including Ward 25, 26 and 27 at Dakkhin Surma area and Ward 8 at Uttar Surma area in the city are yet to be brought under the water supply system.
At present, the authorities are supplying only 4 crore litre against the estimated demand for 8 crore litre water to the city dwellers through 1 water treatment plant, 42 deep tube wells and 40 power pumps.
The crisis of water supply further intensifies at different times in absence of uninterrupted power supply, the SCC conservancy engineer Albab Ahmad Chowdhury said.
Talking to New Age, SCC mayor Ariful Haque Chowdhury said that they have prepared a plan to establish a Surface Water Treatment Plant by sourcing water from the River Sari, situated some 30 km away from the city, to meet the water crisis.
A proposal has also been included in the annual budget of the last fiscal year to establish the proposed Surface Water Treatment Plant at an estimated cost of Tk 650 crore, Arif said that they are yet to find any organisation for funding the project.
The mayor, however, expressed his hope that the prevailing crisis of water supply would be resolved after implementation of the proposed project.
Stating that the water crisis is intensified sometimes in the city as all of the machines cannot run properly because of unscheduled load shedding by the power supply board, Arif said the PDB authorities were already requested to keep uninterrupted supply of electricity in the ongoing month of Ramadan.
Besides, the city dwellers suffer for a certain period in each year due to waterlogging, which also has become another common problem of the civic life in recent years.
Rampant construction of high-rises, encroaching on the land along the banks of the canals, which are the main conduits for draining out water into the River Surma, both in the residential and commercial areas, and dumping all kinds of wastes into the canals are also responsible for increased waterlogging at different parts of the city.
The city corporation has been working for several years to implement a project of Tk 236 crore to solve the problem of waterlogging, besides improving the drainage system across the city, according to the information provided by the city corporation staff.
But suffering to the people caused by waterlogging could not be eliminated so far, because of not taking these steps in a planned manner, the city dwellers claimed.
The SCC officials were seen sometimes to conduct drive to evict illegal structures erected on the banks of city canals at different areas of the city and reclaiming some parts of the canals from the grabbers. But the drives hardly ever continue to consistently reclaim all encroached parts of the canals, the city dwellers said.
These kinds of irregular efforts to reclaim the city canals met with failure time and again. The possible solution to problem of revitalising the canals to end waterlogging in the respective areas thus remained a far cry, they alleged.
As a result, residents of all the areas, including Munsipara, Bhatalia, Sagardighir Par, Kajal Shah, Bagbari, Madina Market, Pathantula, Halder Para, Subidbazar, Fazilchists, Kewapara, Sadatikar, Electric Supply Road, Hawapara, Sawdagar Tula, Badam Bagicha, Bharthakhola, Khujarkhola, Station Road, Lawai, Pirozpur, Mominkhola, Chandighat, Gotatikar, Khanbari, Shibbari and Ganga Nagar in the city are unlikely to see any respite from waterlogging in near future, a social activist Shah Farid said.
The city mayor Arif, however, claimed that the level of waterlogging already has decreased in recent days in the city.
‘Effort to restore drainage system alongside reclaiming the grabbed lands along the banks of the canals is going on under a mega project and the problem of waterlogging would end after the completion of the project,’ he added.
Most of the roads, lanes and bylanes of Sylhet city have already been expanded to ease the traffic congestion, according the SCC officials.
They said that the existed roads are sufficient to carry the load of traffic of the city, if police and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority remain alert and discharge their duties properly.
Apart from the footpaths, a big space of maximum roads in the city centre and its adjoining areas, including Bandar Bazar, Zindabazar, Surma Market, Taltala, Jallarpar, Mirza Jangal, Lamabaza, Chowhatta, Dargah Gate, Rikabibazar, Madhu Shaheed, Medical Road, Subidbazar, Mirer Maydan, Ambarkhana, Darshan Deuri, Barutkhana, Mirboxtula, Naya Sarak, Kazitula, Shahi Eidgah, Kumarpara, Sobhanighat, Mirabazar, Sonarpara, Shibganj, Tilagarh, Shahjalal Upa-Shahar, Station Road, Bharthakhola, Khujarkhola and Kadamtali still remained under illegal occupation of different kinds of street vendors, causing sever hindrance to traffic movement, local people alleged.
Faced with the crisis of parking grounds, drivers of different modes of motor vehicle, including buses, microbuses, CNG-run auto-rickshaws, four-wheeler human haulers, trucks and pick-up vans have set-up unauthorised parking stands at every parts of the city, intensifying the traffic congestion.
Mentioning that the city corporation, in association with the district administration and authorities of concerned departments, conduct regular raids to evict the hawkers from the city streets, the SCC mayor Arif claimed that tackling the traffic hazards would not be possible by the city corporation alone.
‘The city dwellers also have to become aware of their rights and responsibilities,’ Arif pointed out.
Sylhet is situated on the earthquake-prone zone and at the same time it is enriched with natural resources and attractive landscape and a unique environment. For that reason, unplanned urbanisation is intensifying the risk of natural calamity alongside causing damage to the ecological harmony, said members of the civil society.
So, forming a development authority and preparing a master plan is very important for a fast growing and risk-prone city like Sylhet, they observed.
It is impossible for the city corporation to keep control over and monitor each and everything that happens to the city because of various reasons, including financial and political reasons. And it in this light that the city dwellers claimed that the formation of Sylhet Development Authority, or SDA, modelled after other cities of the country is the demand of the time.
There was no alternative to carry on uninterrupted with the intensive development activities to address the main urban problems, including traffic congestion, drinking water crisis and waterlogging, alongside taking effective steps to set up sufficient number of playgrounds and educational institutions across the city, as well as the formation of SDA, they claimed.
The city residents also blamed the elected representatives for not showing interest in forming the SDA, fearing to lose their absolute dominance over the activities of the corporation.
Sylhet Nagar Bhaban sources informed New Age that the government had taken a move to form the Sylhet Development Authority in 2008, but the initiative did not materialise due to lack of interest by the peoples’ representatives.
The peoples’ representatives elected for different terms since 2002, after upgrading of the Sylhet Municipality into the city corporation, also expressed their reluctance over the formation of the SDA.
Rather, constituting a separate institution would create unwanted hindrance in implementing development projects due to tug of war between the two authorities, they alleged.
The SCC chief executive officer Bidhayak Roy Chowdhury, however, told New Age that formation of SDA is a matter of the local government division and the city corporation has nothing to do with it.
‘We are ready to do everything if the government takes any step regarding the matter,’ he added.
Talking to New Age, the SCC former mayor Badar Uddin Ahmad Kamran said that he prepared a master plan with the help of the experts of a developer company Sheltech (Pvt) Limited in 2010 for sustainable development of the city as the experts and city dwellers had been demanding it for a time.
He said specific directives including the locations for developing residential infrastructures and expanding commercial structures as well as specific measures necessary to protect the water bodies, open spaces and playgrounds across the city had been included in the master plan.
‘The next mayor did not follow the master plan in the development activities and did not take any step for its implementation,’ Kamran alleged.
The SCC officials, however, claimed that Kamran himself did not take any effective effort to implement the master plan, though he was in the chair three more years after it was
The SCC mayor Ariful Haque Chowdhury, who was elected in 2013, for the first time, and in 2018, for second consecutive term, told New Age that the master plan prepared by the former mayor was full with flaws and it was not realistic and implementable.
He said that he could not prepare the master plan in his previous 5-year tenure since he had to serve around two and half year jail sentence in two separate baseless cases.
‘I have met more than one times with different senior architects and experts, including former advisor to the caretaker government Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, to discussed the matter,’ Arif said, adding that they were working to prepare an implementable master plan to transform the Sylhet city into a modern urban centre, comfortable for its citizens to live enjoying all the modern facilities.

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