- DSCC renovated the park and opened it to public in 2020
- The park was leased for one year in November 2021
- Lessees have erected a wall surrounding the park and introduced a ticket system
- Various rides and food shops have been set up in the park
Public access to Shaheed Matiur Park in Gulistan has been restricted recently as the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has leased out the park to the private sector.
Now, locals have to enter the park in the busiest area of the capital through buying tickets.
Some rides and food stalls have been set up inside the open park. Besides, a wholesale fruit market has also been established in the park.
The DSCC says the park has been leased for the maintenance of the rides. Tk10 per head is taken for the maintenance cost.
City planners say the city corporation cannot lease such a public park, restricting public access. Small rides can be set up for children's games, but the city corporation cannot install such heavy rides in the park.
The DSCC renovated the Shaheed Matiur Park as part of a Tk6 crore project, removing the walls around the park, and opening it to the public in 2020. The park was designed to keep an open space around it so that people can enter the park from any direction.
The park was designed by Satatya, an architectural firm. After the renovation of the park, Rafiq Azam, chief architect of Satatya, said, "Whenever a garden or park is surrounded by walls, criminal activities take place inside it. If all sides of a park are kept open, everything can be seen from the outside. That is why the park has been renovated by leaving it open all around."
However, in November 2021, the property department of the DSCC leased the park for about Tk20 lakh for one year to Dhaka Metropolitan Awami League Ward-20 Organising Secretary Md Oli Ullah and Rony Sikder. The lessees have erected a wall surrounding the park to prevent public access and introduced a ticketing system.
Informing that he knows nothing about the leasing of the park in Gulistan, architect Rafiq Azam told The Business Standard, "There was no such plan in our design and I was not informed about the wall that has been built by surrounding the park. Such a public place cannot be managed commercially. It is a shame for us. The corporation leased out the park without consulting us."
He expressed his frustration and said, "Where will the children play if the parks are surrounded by border walls like this? The volume of open space is already shrinking in the capital. Where is the place for city dwellers to breathe freely if the ticket is needed to enter such a public park?" he asked in frustration.
At present, there are three entrances to the park. At each entrance, representatives of leaseholders sell tickets for entry into the 3.5-acre park.
Besides mango, blackberry, mahogany, common coleus and eucalyptus trees, the park has several species of flowering plants. Two nagalingam trees mostly attract the attention of visitors.
At least eight rides, including nagardola and train, have been set up on the east side of the park. It takes Tk30-50 for each of the rides. Several food shops have also been set up inside the park. There is also a pond in the park, where a boat ride has been introduced at Tk50 per person.
People visiting the park say that it is not right to turn such an open park into a commercial spot. Many have even said that extra money is being taken for the rides.
After the renovation of the park, many people used to come to the park regularly for exercises, while children came to play there.
Abu Hanif used to take regular walks in the morning before the park was leased out. Now the environment of the park is fine, but he can no longer walk in the morning.
He told TBS, "If you want to walk in the park now, you have to buy a Tk10 ticket. Where will the city dwellers find an open place to breathe if commercial rides are set up in a public park like this? This is how the green space of the city is getting lost. We want open spaces for everyone in the city."
Nurunnahar Begum came to the park from Jatrabari in the capital with her children. She said, "I used to enter here without paying money and stroll in the park for a while the children played. But now I have to buy a ticket to enter the park. Not only that, I have to bear additional expenses for the small rides for children, spending Tk30-50 for each of the rides."
Meanwhile, a wholesale litchi market has been set up next to the Mahanagar Natyamancha on the west side of the park.
Leaseholders said that they have taken this temporary measure to cover their losses. However, the city corporation did not give any permission for this. The seasonal fruit litchi is traded there from 10pm to 6am.
Visitors have alleged that the natural beauty of the park has been destroyed through the wholesale market. If the leaseholders continue like this, the whole park will one day become a business centre. Fruit traders of the market said they are using this place through giving money to the lessees.
When contacted, lessee Rony Sikder claimed to TBS that there was a time ordinary people did not want to come to this park. "Various anti-social activities, including drug abuse, were going on. Now people come to the park for entertainment. The Tk10 ticket has been introduced for the cost of maintenance," he said.
Regarding the fruit market in the park, he said, "The money collected from ticket sales and rides is not enough compared to the amount invested in the park. Not many people are coming because there is no campaign. As such, a seasonal fruit fair is being organised for publicity. An application has been submitted to the DSCC about it."
But the DSCC says it has not received any such application.
DSCC Chief Property Officer Md Russell Sabrin said, "Even if they apply, there is no scope to sell fruits in the park. If they do so, the market will be evicted."
Farid Ahmed, chief executive officer of DSCC, said, "We have set up several rides in the park, but we do not have the manpower for maintenance. That is why it has been leased. The lessees are taking Tk10 ticket for entry to the park."
He claimed that there is still sufficient space left at the park to play.
In reply to a query on whether access to a public park can be restricted in such a way, whether shops and rides can be set up, the official said, "The park has been renovated under a project and it will now be managed as per decision of the city corporation."
Urban planner and Executive Director of the Institute for Planning and Development Professor Adil Muhammad Khan told TBS that the city corporation cannot morally curtail public access to any park by leasing it. "This is totally unfair. Not even Tk1 should be taken for entering the park; rather the facilities of the park should be increased keeping the welfare of the people in mind," he said.
Observing that the corporation itself does not know what is happening in the park, the city planner said, "The corporation does not have thousands of parks for maintenance; there are only a handful of parks. The city corporation can preserve and maintain these parks. Parks and playgrounds should be overseen by the city corporation and maintained by them."