Playing football or entering with a football in this cricket field is prohibited – so reads the signboard at the gate of the Shaheed Zayan Chowdhury Playground in the capital's Banani.
The playground is accessible for sports activities for a limited five-hour window each day, exclusively reserved for children and youth residing in the Banani residential area. Furthermore, in case of rain, playing is prohibited to prevent potential damage to the expensive turf.
These are examples of many rules that must be adhered to when using this public facility developed by the Dhaka North City Corporation.
Moreover, the walkway in the field is accessible from 6am to 10am and again from 4pm to 11pm. However, playing in the field is only allowed from 10am to 1pm and from 4pm to 6pm.
The management committee of the ground has also instructed people to wear appropriate sports attire and footwear when accessing the field. The rules clearly prohibit barefoot or lungi-clad entry to the ground.
Urban planners have expressed their disapproval of the multitude of rules and regulations governing access to a public space.
A playground in an area is not for a particular group. Everyone has an equal right to services without discrimination. Public playgrounds should not remain closed for extended periods, they said.
However, the management committee argues that the ground has been made suitable for cricket. It is kept closed at certain times of the day for purposes of maintenance and for the safety of residents of the area.
The Dhaka North City Corporation has recently modernised the ground, which was inaugurated in 2021 at a cost of Tk5 crore.
City corporation officials said they are in the process of formulating policies to oversee the management of fields within Dhaka North. Various organisations will be entrusted with the responsibility of management, with the aim of eliminating such obstacles in the future.
A field visit on Wednesday, 30 August, revealed that both the main entrance gate and a smaller access gate to the ground remained locked until 4pm. Even after the gates of the field were opened in the afternoon, only a limited number of children were spotted engaged in games.
Some young women were seated on the field, a few young boys were practising cricket in the nets, and some individuals were seen walking along the walkway.
However, young cricketers say that they are required to pay Tk1,000 per hour for net practice.
Shaon, who came to the ground from Mirpur for practice, said, "When we come in groups to use the nets for practice, we are charged Tk1,000 per hour. Additionally, if we wish to utilise the cricket pitch for a match, there is also a separate fee to be paid."
Yakub Ali, a rickshaw driver taking a break on the pavement outside the ground, said, "The gatekeeper promptly pushed me away when I approached the entrance saying that wearing a lungi is not permitted inside the ground."
He added, "It used to be more welcoming when there were fences surrounding the field. Children used to play cricket and football throughout the day, and we could also find shade under the trees to sit and relax."
Urban Planner Professor Adil Mohammed Khan, executive director of the Institute for Planning and Development (IPD), told The Business Standard that the city corporation has allocated the field to a specific group of people, which raises concerns about fairness and equity.
"If the playground, park, or public space is owned by the city corporation, it should also be its responsibility to maintain it. Why should public fields be locked to cater to the preferences of certain groups?" he said.
Sheikh Arif, member of the ground maintenance committee, said leaving the field open without restrictions can lead to the field becoming a place for drug addicts to gather and activities from the Karail Slum.
He said around 30 residents of Banani Road No 1, I Block, have been diligently maintaining the field through voluntary contributions. They collectively invest at least Tk1 lakh every month for the upkeep of this field.
On 6 March 2021, this ground was officially inaugurated by the mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation in honour of Zayan Chowdhury, the grandson of Awami League Presidium member and Member of Parliament Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim.
Subsequently, the city corporation undertook the development of the ground, implementing various enhancements such as the construction of internal and external walkways, dedicated playing areas for children, public restrooms, seating benches, a cricket net practice facility, and the establishment of boundaries and greenery along all sides as part of a project.
Md Selim Reza, CEO of Dhaka North City Corporation, told TBS that it may not be feasible to allocate a field for everyone's use, but implementing clear policies could potentially address many of the associated issues and challenges.