Proper implementation of development projects and addressing the existing problems is key to turning Chattogram into the commercial hub it is expected to be, urbanisation experts at a webinar said.
Authorities concerned also need to plan the next steps with the necessity of people from all walks of life in mind to improve the city's liveability, representatives of various sectors and organisations from the port city said at the event organised by The Business Standard on Thursday.
Currently, development projects worth Tk1 lakh crore are being implemented in Chattogram, including the Matarbari Deep-Sea Port, Mirsarai Economic Zone, Karnaphuli Tunnel, Cox's Bazar Rail Line, Chattogram Port Bay Terminal, Patenga Container Terminal.
The port city is ready as an investment friendly city, the discussants said, hoping that it will be the next South Asia Business Hub.
"Chattogram is a commercial hub of the country. It is important that the projects here are completed on time," said Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He said the Bay terminal and new jetties need to be built on the port. Otherwise Chattogram will not be able to produce any rewards as a commercial city.
He added the departmental offices in the port city need to be empowered, or Chattogram will not be able to enjoy the benefits of the mega projects being implemented there.
Moreover, the decision-making power of the government institutions need to be shifted to Chattogram, said the Chittagong Chamber president.
Mahbubul also said Chattogram-based businessmen are incurring losses due to the weighing scale at Boro Darogahat on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway. Although 20-22 tonnes of goods are transported on other roads using six wheeler transports, traders in Chattogram cannot transport more than 13 tonnes due to the weighing scale limit.
Meanwhile, Akhter Kabir Chowdhury, president, Chattogram Chapter, Citizens for Good Governance (SHUJAN), said, "Chattogram was declared as the commercial capital a few decades ago…But the development that was supposed to take place in Chattogram for it being the commercial capital has not happened at all."
Syed Mohammad Tanvir, vice-president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "The biggest problem in Chattogram is waterlogging. Every year we, the people of Chattogram, suffer. The city corporation, the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) has the responsibility to solve this problem."
He urged the private sector to come forward to improve the living condition of the city. He also urged for upskilling Chattogram's manpower to fulfill the requirements foreign investments will create there.
"For the first time in the country, the Japan Desk has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a trade body. This is a very functional desk where any Japanese investor will be able to get any information regarding Bangladesh," he said.
Tanvir continued, "Bangladesh is lagging behind in the Ease of Doing Business index. We have set up the Japan Desk to provide a one stop solution, one stop service. We are providing every service to Japanese investors, including company formation, tax advisory, corporate formation, and recruitment."
Mega projects not producing mega benefits
Subhash Barua, vice-president of the Planned Chittagong Forum said, "There is no qualitative discussion on waterlogging and traffic congestion in Chattogram. Thousands of crores of taka worth of development projects are being implemented, but traffic jams or water jams remain. There is no management anywhere."
He said, "We are talking about installing metro rail to reduce traffic congestion. It will be able to transport 60,000 passengers per hour. But this city does not have more than 5,000-6,000 passengers who travel regularly.
"Although there is a mega cost to implement a mega project, there is no mega profit. The work that is being done for Tk1,000, could have been done with Tk1."
"We never look at the core of the problem. A master plan was formulated in 1995, but there is no planning department to implement it. The work of the fast phase of that master plan could not be started in the last 26 years. If we want to change this situation, we need to reform the plan."
No one to think about pedestrians
Meanwhile, Planned Chittagong Forum General Secretary Zerin Hossain said, "If we are thinking of reaching the pinnacle of development, we must come up with a roadmap. But we have no plans."
"One after another flyover is being built in Chattogram, but where is the sidewalk for pedestrians?," she questioned.
Zerin said, "Investors and businessmen will be able to travel uninterrupted using the flyover they say is being built with Tk4000 crore. But who will think about the rickshaw puller under the flyover?
"Now there is talk of a satellite town to be developed in Hathazari, Patia Boalkhali outside the city. But all these plans were in the master plan of '95. It could have been a university town centered on Chattogram School, a popular idea around the world."
Think of Chattogram as Chattogram, not Singapore
Prof Mohammad Rashidul Hasan, head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology said, "There is no time to think about the Chattogram City Corporation or the CDA. From now on, we have to think about the regional plan of Chittagong."
"We have to think of Chattogram as Chattogram and put a stop with promises to turn it into Singapore," he said
The professor said, "Chattogram has a history of 1,200 years. The city must be built in line with the prime minister's 100-year delta plan.
Also speaking on the occasion, Rashidul Hasan, a city planner, said, "The government has already come up with a grand plan for Matarbari. Mirsarai, Sitakunda and Anwara are becoming economic zones where millions of people will be employed. We have to plan now how they will be accommodated," added.
Investment-friendly communication system being developed
Architect Shahinul Islam Khan, chief urban planner of the CDA, said, "Bangladesh is now 168th investment-friendly country in the world, ten points up from 2019. You know the huge initiatives we have made in the field of investment-friendly communication systems. We are building roads to increase connectivity. We are building flyovers. Chattogram is waiting to be transformed into 'one city two town' through tunnels."
He further said that public transport needs to be increased to reduce traffic congestion as it is a densely populated city. Dedicated bus lanes need to be introduced. The number of cars in the city is increasing every year. Flyovers are being constructed as a solution to increase road capacity.
Waterways and railways should be given more importance
Rezaul Karim, a climate expert and former chief urban planner of Chattogram City Corporation, said "Chattogram is a coastal and major city in the region. Around 40,000-45,000 people live here per square kilometer. As a coastal city, we are at environmental risk."
However, he said, "Population density is not an issue if the benefits of infrastructures are ensured.
"Climate change is increasing day by day and will continue to increase. The alarming issue for Chattogram is that it consists of a coast and a mountain. The hills in this region are sand hills. Due to river erosion, floods, droughts and cyclones, people come to the city and live in the mountains.
"These people are cutting down the hills to live there. As a result, the sands are getting mixed in the rain and creating waterlogging in the rainy season."
If the city as well as the surrounding upazilas are developed as satellite towns, the pressure on the city will be reduced, he said.