Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dhaka City and Our Civic Responsibilities

Published in The Independent,
October 23rr., 2010
M. Serajul Islam

I walk to my mosque on Gulshan Avenue that is a few hundred yards from my house every Friday to say my Jumma prayers. Last Friday on my way, I saw a board on a plot where a multi storied building is under construction. The message on the board in Bangla said that those walking by the site should be careful from falling materials.

One must commend the good civic sense of the builder to warn pedestrians of such danger. There is one problem however in commending the builder without some words of criticism. The builder has in fact kept no space for the pedestrians to walk, having taken over the footpath for keeping building materials. The under construction building has access to two roads. The side where this board has been raised is on Road No 2 on Gulshan. On the other side, the construction is on Road no 4. On that side, the builder has taken over half of the road for other building materials and we who live close to this building on Road 4 are lucky that he has spared us some space on the road for us to use!

However he is not so kind when we try to sleep at night. His construction materials all come at night. At dead of night, some of us are woken by sound of bricks being off loaded into the footpath which is not that bad. It is unbearable when stone pebbles are off loaded from the truck and then arranged on the footpath. The screeching sound makes us pull our own hair in rage because a few attempts, even with a complaint with Gulshan Police, have not been able to stop these criminal activities at night.

The builder has one point in his favour though. He told us that the city authorities do not allow the trucks into areas such as Gulshan at night before 10pm and therefore he cannot help his unlawful activities at night. However, the important point is not what the city authorities do or do not do; the bottom line is no one has the right to do anything as the builder has been doing at a time when people inside a residential area are sleeping. Such acts are both illegal and uncivilized..

Let us come back to this board cautioning pedestrians. Thanks to new building code now in operation in Gulshan, every builder must leave space from the wall. If minimum building safe codes are applied by the builder, there would be no need of this bill board. In fact, this billboard is a proof that something is seriously amiss here. There can and should not be no earthly reason, let alone a lawful one, for of a single brick or for that matter even a pebble falling from a construction site to the road. The builder can very easily ensure that by adopting simple safety precautions like safety nets around the building under construction. But this builder has done nothing like that; instead by the billboard he seems to have put the onus on the pedestrian where even death is possible. The city authority should read this builder the law; that he needs to warn himself that if any pedestrian is injured; the arm of the law would grab him by the throat. At the moment, he is blissfully and may I say, criminally, unaware of his responsibilities.

While waiting to come down the stairs at the Mosque after the prayer was over the same day, a fellow devotee attracted my attention to the cars parked in front of the Mosque. In fact, the cars were parked on the road in triple rows leaving little space for vehicles to move towards Circle One of Gulshan. These cars are parked this way every Friday and remain so for at least an hour. The gentleman who attracted my attention thought the Mosque should have enough parking spaces. He was of course not right because given the fact Dhaka is known as a city of mosques, it is an impossible proposition. The important point here is how easily people in our society, those who are educated and are elites of the society, break laws so easily. It does not need to be stated that all those whose cars are parked every week at Jumma prayer in front of the Mosque are in clear violation of the law. In any other country, their cars would be towed away for a hefty fine so that they would not again commit such a breach.

Those who come by car and violate the law all live, like I do, in walking vicinity of the Mosque. They can all walk to the Mosque and avoid violating the law. For those who live a little distance away, they can have themselves dropped and then picked up very easily. But few do that and those who park their cars illegally do so as a matter of habbit. It is not just the Mosque they use by illegally parking their cars outside it; all big corporate houses on Gulshan Avenue do so. These corporate houses and businesses know too well that they do not have even a small percentage of the parking space they need. Still they open their establishments and the authorities allow them and they merrily use the Gulshan avenue and the residential roads as “legitimate” parking space.

Dhaka city is close to becoming inhabitable if not one already. A lot of the ills of the city are due to people who are educated, influential and Dhaka’s elites. The examples cited in this piece are just a few and everywhere around us, we are breaking civic laws that are pushing Dhaka over the edge. The Government and the City Corporation speak of the problems but so far has done little to save Dhaka. It is time for the city dwellers, particularly those who complain about the ills of Dhaka life to see what laws and codes they are violating. If they act on their violations, there may be hope for Dhaka coming back from the brinks.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt and may be reached by email Serajul7@gmail.com

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