Only decentralization can save Dhaka from ‘collapse’: Experts

Stressing the importance of rapid decentralization of capital Dhaka to save it from its ‘imminent collapse’, experts have said the city authorities need to deal with its root problems rather than taking short-term measures like constructing mega structures.

They said there is no alternative to decentralization for making the capital city livable again as it is struggling to ensure civic amenities to its huge population with its weak infrastructures.

They insisted that the strong will of political parties, especially the ones in power, is needed for the much-needed decentralization, which includes relocating key installations, especially government offices, industries, all types of factories from Dhaka to reduce the unprecedented pressure of population on it.
They also advocated for a comprehensive and farsighted plan to save the country’s capital.

Urban expert and former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Prof Nazrul Islam, Prof Sarwar Jahan of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and Prof Dr Rezaul Haque of Khulna University’s Urban and Rural Planning Department came up with the views.

According to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report published in August last year, Dhaka ranked the second least livable city in the world. The country’s capital remains at the bottom of the ranking for the past five years.

Another report conducted by the United Nations in 2014 says Dhaka is the 11th most populous city of the world with nearly 1.7 crore people. Dhaka was 24th in 1990 with only 66.21 lakh people and saw a 3.6 percent annual rise in its population between 2010 and 2015.

Urban expert and former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Prof Nazrul Islam said the problem of Dhaka city is very serious and complex. “There is a clear absence of sincerity and commitment to address Dhaka city’s problems.”

“There were assurances from the highest political level to make Dhaka a livable and dynamic city. But, we hardly see the words to be followed by actions…the political leaders are least bothered about Dhaka. But, they must take care of it because the entire country’s development largely depends on it,” he added.

Political, administrative and socio-economic decentralization is a must for the overall development of the country, the urban expert said adding, “We’ll have to start it with political decentralization. Political decentralization means strengthening the local government…then we have to go for administrative and socio-economic decentralization.”

He also said the scope and opportunities have to be increased at divisional, district and upazila levels for a meaningful decentralization.

Prof Sarwar Jahan of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) said it is must to empower local government institutions for an effective decentralization.

“In the present context, we can say no local government institution is independent. All are dependent on the central government to discharge their duties. In many countries, particularly the developed ones, local government institutions are very strong. They have wonderful policies to run local government institutions,” he added.

“Had our local government institutions had the power to work out plans and implement those accordingly, then we would have seen the proper decentralization,” said the BUET professor.

People will not come to Dhaka in search of jobs if economic opportunities are created at the grassroots level, Sarwar Jahan added.

Dr Rezaul Haque, a professor of Urban and Rural Planning Department of Khulna University, said there is no alternative to decentralization to reduce pressure on Dhaka.

“Why are all the central offices located in Dhaka? The Shipping Ministry can be relocated in Khulna or Chittagong. The same way, the Agriculture Ministry can be shifted to Rangpur. If we cannot reorganize this way, the pressure on Dhaka would never ease,” he said.

He went on saying, “Why on earth are all the garment factories in Dhaka? Rural people would have got a better scope of employment had those been located outside Dhaka!.”

So, Dr Haque said, the political will is more important than anything else for decentralization in Bangladesh.

Source: Samakal. Date: 07 May 2016