The city corporations' community centres are supposed to be used as venues for various social gatherings, but about half of the centres operated by the Dhaka city corporations are either being used by different government agencies, or they badly need renovation.
As a result, the city dwellers often do not get the desired services from these centres and they are forced to rent private community centres at a much higher cost compared to the city corporations' centres.
Urban planners think that the city corporations are undermining the city residents' rights by not repairing the community centres and by renting them out to various agencies.
Most of the 36 community centres of the Dhaka South City Corporation are unusable. Different government agencies are using eight of these community centres as offices. Of the remaining 28, 10 are not being used at all as they are risky. Thirteen community centres in Dhaka are also known to be risky, but still people rent them sometimes for weddings and social events. Only five of the community centres in Dhaka South have been renovated and they are suitable for renting to the public.
Masudur Rahman, caretaker of Dhaka South's Zone-2 community centers, told TBS, "The Basabo community centre was rented out for 28 events in February. It was renovated recently, but still it has problems with electric fans and lights. The rest of the community centres were rented for around 5-8 events per month. None of the other centres are in good condition."
Sajedul Karim, caretaker of the community centers in Dhaka South's Zone-3, told TBS, "People are interested in renting the Nawabganj Saat Shaheed community centre as it was renovated. However, it is not attracting as many customers as it should. There have been 25 programmes at the centre in February. Around 5-7 programmes are held every month in the other centres."
Sohrab Uddin, a resident of Azimpur, told TBS, "Middle-class people like us have to rent private community centers at exorbitant prices for weddings or any other social event as all the community centers of the city corporations around us are unusable."
Before the lockdown started, Nasima Khanam, a resident of Mohammadpur, arranged her daughter's wedding at a private community centre, rented for Tk1.5 lakh, as she could not rent the city corporation's Suchana community centre.
Nasima Khanam told TBS, "The Dhaka North's Suchana community centre in our vicinity is good and its rent is very low, but there is a huge demand for it. We had no other option than arranging our programmes at private community centres. The mayor has been assuring us of solving this problem, but apparently it is not solved."
According to the budget for FY21, the government allocated Tk260.07 crore for setting up renovating community centres in Dhaka South, but the community centres' condition have not improved much.
The government allocated Tk474.57 crore for building and renovating community centres in the last five years in Dhaka South, but progress in work in this regard is not visible yet.
The Dhaka South City Corporation earned about Tk2.09 crore from community centres in FY21 and Tk2.81 crore in FY20.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka North City Corporation has 14 community centers. Five of them are being repaired or used by various government departments, so the citizens can get services from nine centers.
The government allocated Tk5 crore in FY21, and Tk10 crore in FY20 for the repair of community centers.
Assistant Social Welfare Officer Abdul Hai Talukder, who is in charge of the Suchana and Late Abdul Halim community centres in Dhaka North Zone-5, told TBS all the community centers are currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mohammad Mamun-ul-Hasan, chief social welfare and slum development officer of Dhaka North, told TBS, "We have stopped taking bookings for our community centres because of Covid-19. Two of our centers are closed and three others are rented to Rab."
In the nine months from July 2020 to March 2021 the Dhaka North City Corporation has earned around Tk1.29 crore from nine community centers. The amount of income would have been more if there was no lockdown. People have been using all these community centers with ease, said Mohammad Mamun-ul-Hasan.
Asked how reasonable it is to use community centers as offices of government agencies or city corporations, infringing the city dwellers' rights, Mohammad Mamun-ul-Hasan said, "We have rented these centers because there is a government decision. It was not given to anyone else but RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). This has been done in the interest of maintaining law and order. There are more centers around the community centers that you can use if you want."
Akand Mohammad Faisal Uddin, chief social welfare and slum development officer of Dhaka South, told TBS, "No new community centre has been rented to any organisation in the last one year. The centres rented previously are operating under that agreement. The agencies that rented them are also government service providers. They have been rented as there are instructions from the higher authority."
However, the Dhaka South mayor has given a letter to the agencies to select their alternative venues, he said.
Bangladesh Institute of Planners Secretary-General Adil Mohammad Khan said, "It was unreasonable for the city corporations to rent out community centers to government or non-government entities. This is violating the city dwellers' rights. In addition, community centers which are unusable need to be renovated quickly."
He said, "Community-based activities have largely disappeared from our society. We think community centres are meant only for weddings or events. In fact there should be opportunities to do any social event here. Each ward should have a specific place so that everyone can have the opportunity to organise events. It is important to focus on uniting the locals, not just making arrangements for earning money."
The city planner also called for setting up a committee comprising all classes of people in their respective areas to maintain and preserve the community centers.
Dhaka South Mayor Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said, "We have taken initiatives to build one social event centre in each ward. We have already prepared a project for the construction of 43 new five-storey social event centers and sent it to the ministry. All those social event centers will have our councillors' offices, primary health care activities, gym, library facilities, so that Dhaka residents can get their services from one centre."