IT IS shocking and environmentally unwise that the authorities keep cutting down trees in the historic part of Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka to make room for restaurants and other structures as part of the third phase, meant to beautify the place and make it more green, of a project of the liberation war affairs ministry. A portion of the park, which is intrinsically related to the history of Bangladesh’s liberation war, was converted into the National Children’s Park in the late 1970s. The Public Works Department is implementing the liberation war affairs ministry project, the third phase of which, as experts and urban planners say, is eroding the beauty of the park and destroying its ecology by way of detailing the project much of which is not essential. Six rights groups and an architect on May 6, in such a situation, rightly served separate legal notices on the government — the liberation war affairs secretary, the chief engineer of the Public Works Department and the chief architect of Bangladesh — asking it to stop the felling of trees in the park in 48 hours. While the authorities keep felling trees inside the park, to house an underground parking for 500 cars and seven food courts, civic and political groups have started denouncing the government efforts.
The felling of trees in the park, as experts say, constitutes a violation of the environment laws. It also stands in breach of a High Court order of 2009, issued on hearing a public interest litigation writ petition filed by the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, for the government to protect the sanctity of the place that is related to the history of the liberation war. The Environmental Lawyers’ Association, which is among the groups that served the legal notices, says that the liberation war affairs ministry project has no environmental clearance. What is further worrying is that the ministry is reported not to have any account of how many trees have already been cut down and how many of them would be felled. The government move also does not appear to have taken public concern about the place, considered an oasis by the campus of the University of Dhaka, into account. The authorities are reported to have plans to make the place green by planting flower trees that would look beautiful. But the authorities should learn that flower trees may not do what old trees which have grown there over the years do to the environment. Dealing with the old park, which existed as bagh-e-patshahi, or the royal garden, in the Mughal period, needs additional care and efforts, and a bit of love for the nature, that the government has hardly showed.
It has always been sprawling spaces that the government has laid its hands on whenever it has needed to engage in beautification projects without caring about the ecology and beauty of such open spaces. The government must learn where not to lay its hands on and must save the park from the onslaught of the bells and trinkets that it may dispense with.
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