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Mayor Atiqul: Hatirjheel was poorly planned

  • Published at 10:58 pm July 27th, 2020
Dhaka North City Mayor Md. Atiqul Islam Courtesy_ Sazzad Hossain_Bangla Tribune
File photo: Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Md Atiqul Islam Courtesy: Sazzad Hossain/Bangla Tribune

Mayor Atiqul Islam has taken various initiatives to make those parts of the city that are under Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) a better place for the city’s residents. In an exclusive interview given to Bangla Tribune, he talked about the lack of foresight behind the Hatirjheel project, and the steps he took to eliminate waterlogging. The mayor also outlined various plans, including increasing revenue without raising taxes, and reducing traffic congestion.

The main objectives of the Hatirjheel project were to reduce traffic congestion in the capital, conserve rainwater, prevent waterlogging and floods, develop wastewater drainage systems, and enhance beauty. But it is not playing any role in reducing waterlogging. Conversely, there is waterlogging in large swathes in its vicinity even if there is little rainfall. What will the city corporation do about this?

Hatirjheel was poorly planned. Currently, waterlogging occurs at DNCC’s Mogbazar Main Road, Jahan Box Lane, Shah Saheb Bari Lane, Nayatola, and Modhubag. This would not have been the case if these areas were considered when creating the Hatirjheel. I have visited the Hatirjheel area with the local government minister to inspect the situation. 

Water accumulates in front of the TCB building, even though Hatirjheel is next to it. The drainage line runs east from there before returning to the west again. The water will go to the culvert that brings water from Dhanmondi, and then it will go to Hatirjheel.

Water will not wait that long for anyone. Rainwater should be removed as soon as possible. We are now having to come up with an adjustment plan after taking all this into consideration. 

People concerned are saying that Hatirjheel was planned keeping only 20-30 millimetres of rainfall in mind. This is a country prone to regular rainfall, and the plan should have been made keeping all six seasons in mind. Concerned people also should have thought about the situation in Dhaka if it rains 50-60 mms. We have to install more pumps in Hatirjheel now to get the water out.

The Hatirjheel authority will take years just to ponder on this issue. They are still not finished with their thinking. I have already submitted my project, and I’ll start my work as soon as the ministry approves it. We have to do these things to ensure that no one suffers in the next monsoon. Connections have to be established between the canals and the surface drains. 

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Md Atiqul Islam | Courtesy: Sazzad Hossain/Bangla Tribune 

There was a plan to build the Begunbari (Aftab Nagar-Banasree) canal just like Hatirjheel. How far are you with its implementation?

We will start the project for the Aftab Nagar-Banasree canal—it will be very pleasing to the eyes. The canal will be lined on both sides, and there will be a walkway so that people can enjoy a stroll like they do at Hatirjheel. The canal will reach the Balu River, and it will be like the one beside the Parliament.

I have already told the concerned people to draw up a plan. 

We are also at fault—we throw waste in the canals. I have made a master plan considering everything.

The whole city is inundated every time it rains. Six government agencies are responsible for resolving this water blockage. How will you create harmony among them, and do you have any special plan to tackle this waterlogging issue?

These issues aren’t something new; we have to think deeply to understand why these things are happening.

When I first took office, there was waist-deep water in the Kalshi canal. I went there, saw it, and talked to our engineering department. I tried to find the reason behind this. I realized that a temporary solution would benefit no one. We have to find a permanent solution. Taking all this into consideration, I have undertaken a three-stage plan—short term, medium term, and long term. 

It is solely WASA’s responsibility to keep the canal clean. Nevertheless, we cleaned the whole canal thinking about people’s suffering. We recovered 33 mattresses, 80 truckloads of coconut shells, several televisions, and fridges from the canal.

There was a culvert on the north side of the canal, and to its south were the Baunia and Baishteki canals. We saw that there was no way towards the south side. The canal is occupied and thousands of houses have been built on it. It would’ve taken a long time if I had waited to demolish the houses before starting work. Then I made another line along the north side of the canal and connected it to the Balu River. We solved the problems of that area through careful planning. 

Water will not accumulate in the Kalshi canal now. I have spent Tk5 crore for this, even though it was WASA’s job to fix this problem. I will be audited for this as the canal is not under my jurisdiction, but it had to be done.

Similarly, the Civil Aviation Authority's canal in Kawla was rescued within 27 days with the army’s help. There is no water build up there now. The canal is owned by the Civil Aviation Authority, not us. Nonetheless, I could not neglect it as an elected representative. 

This is why coordination among institutions is important. Whenever I can't coordinate, I start checking out the law. The law says that the city corporation will fulfil this duty but the other agencies are preventing it. We wouldn’t have had to experience the current situation if WASA had not failed. People use obscenities against us but we did not come here to go through such vulgarities. Rather, people have to be served before they can utter a word.

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Md Atiqul Islam | Courtesy: Sazzad Hossain/Bangla Tribune

There is no waterlogging in Uttara sectors four and six as we have brought the situation under control by installing drains. We have removed the water blockage of the Civil Aviation Canal in Kawla, the airport area, Kalshi, and Khilkhet. Water accumulates in Kawranbazar-Bijoy Sarani, Aeroplane Chattar, and the Planning Commission area, one of the major reasons being the metro rail project. But I am keeping the people concerned under constant pressure; I have told them that I will not allow the project to go forward unless the water blockage issue is resolved. 

Later they gave us Tk20 crore to that end. We are now working to eliminate waterlogging in this area. As it will take time to float a tender, I have given this job to the army, and they will be done within three months. Also, there will be no more waterlogging in the Shah Saheb Bari area of Mogbazar. This will also be handled by the army. Furthermore, we have eliminated waterlogging in different areas including Banasree, Niketan, Agargaon, and Uttara.

There is discrimination between old and new homeowners regarding the holding tax. Owners of old houses pay taxes at the same rate as they did 30 years ago, while new homeowners pay taxes according to the current rate. Will you take any initiative to re-evaluate the holding tax to increase revenue?

The councillors have raised this issue at our board meeting. There are many other types of discrimination, besides the holding tax. I’ve already asked our chief revenue officer to give their input in this matter.

A person who has built a house recently pays tax on one scale, while the one who built their house in the past pays tax on a different scale. Sometimes there are people living in adjacent flats who pay different amounts in taxes. In some other cases, a house that was three-storey in the past is being evaluated on the three floors only. It is a 10-storey building now but the remaining seven floors have not been evaluated, and are not being considered for tax. This is a very common occurrence.

We are still collecting the holding tax manually but we will shift the process online soon. We will determine the tax based on different areas, and then no one will have scope to go outside the fixed system. People won’t have to come to our office to pay taxes.

I won’t increase taxes, I will increase the number of taxpayers instead. Currently, we receive taxes from 250,000 houses. If I can add another 100,000 to that number, our revenue will increase, which I think will be enough to become self-sufficient. 

Dhaka is called the city of rickshaws, and it is believed that they are largely responsible for the traffic congestion in the city. Last year it was decided to shift the movement of rickshaws from the main roads to the inner roads. Is there any update on this matter?

There is a lot more research to be done on rickshaws. In some cases, we see that four separate cars take four kids to school even if they are from the same building. We will use carpooling and see to it that those four children leave for school in the same car. 

There will be a device in children’s bags that will automatically notify parents when their child enters school. The software development is currently underway. Three or four schools from a ward will be the first to participate in this pilot project. We will introduce it in all schools if the project is successful.