Every year in monsoon when the national tree plantation campaign kicks off, Dhaka city corporation authorities seem to realise the importance of greeneries.
With great enthusiasm, though seemingly in photo sessions, Dhaka mayors and ward councillors, surrounded by peers, plant saplings here and there.
The extravaganza, unfortunately, follows no proper planning. It seems that any sapling can be planted anywhere.
If there had been an actual plan behind all these plantings, Dhaka would have been a green city today.
Over the last 10 years, Dhaka city has been undergoing aggressive urbanisation with the massive development projects, including construction of metro rail tracks and elevated express ways, marking the landscape. The coverage of urban housing is expanding as well. The little greenery the city retains from years and decades back, have either had to be cut down or are already in the process of disappearing as old trees lose their grip of the soil and are blown away by gusty winds.
For the metro rail project alone, around 1,500 matured trees were cut down.
The year 2020 is special. To celebrate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the government undertook a plan to plant one crore trees across the country.
As part of the programme, mayors of two city corporations in Dhaka separately announced plans to plant one lakh trees in each of their constituencies.
A number of ward councillors have told The Business Standard that they planted a good number of trees at their respective constituencies.
A ward councillor of Mirpur area, Dewan Abdul Mannan, sponsored the nursing of 200 bakul saplings this year and planted them along the footpaths of the Natun Bazar to Government Bangla College road and neighbourhoods in Kalyanpur area.
On a recent visit to the road, only 36 young bakul trees were found fenced along the footpath.
Almost half of them were dead. The trees were planted in small holes on the concrete footpath, allowing limited soil for their roots to spread.
Lalmatia area Ward Councillor Syed Hasan Nur Islam claimed that he collected 2,000 saplings of medicinal trees for plantation in his area.
During a visit to his office, he showed us some of the saplings planted at the Lalmatia Housing Society School and College playground.
The rest of the saplings were distributed among local residents, who, according to Hasan, planted them at their rooftops and lawns.
"I have no employees to look after the trees or monitor their growth," the councillor said, adding that he did not know the present condition of the distributed trees.
A ward councillor of Uttara area, Afsar Uddin said around 4,000 saplings of different trees were planted at the roadsides of Uttara and the Uttara Lake this year.
Afsar could not say where the trees were planted because he was not present during the plantation.
Shahbagh area Ward Councillor Asaduzzaman ran a campaign of krishnachura plantation this year. He found the large trees unsuitable for roadsides.
Hence, he planted more than 200 of its saplings at an open space in Dhaka University campus and some other neighbourhoods.
None of the peoples' representatives who talked to this correspondent knew whether the saplings they planted were suitable for the particular areas.
They did not even know how long the saplings would be looked after. And this has been going on for years.
Since 1993, at least four large-scale projects for tree plantation in Dhaka city were implemented, excluding the annual tree plantation.
According to a Buet research titled "Study of urban forestry through roadside tree plantation in Dhaka city", around Tk 157 crore was spent on the projects between 1993 and 2008.
The projects were "Nagar Banayan Prokolpo", Zonal Wise Tree Plantation Programme, "Dhaka Mahanagarir Obokathamo Ebong Poribesh Unnoyan Prokolpo" and Dhaka City Beautification Project.
Among the trees planted under the projects, mahogany, arjun, krishnachura, segun, bakul, weeping debdaru and fruit trees like mango, jack fruit and olive are prominent.
Prior to the Cricket World Cup 2011, the responsibility of Dhaka city beautification was handed over to private organisations.
At least 129 private organisations adopted medians of Dhaka streets and planted mostly ornamental and flower trees there.
The plantation and maintenance cost borne by the private organisations could not be confirmed.
"None of the initiatives, however, followed any comprehensive plan. Because, there is no urban tree plantation plan for Dhaka," opined Mokaram Hossain, general secretary of Tarupallab–a nature and environment based voluntary organisation. Mokaram has been working on ecological conservation for 20 years.
Like him, other independent naturalists have always had doubts about tree plantation's success, particularly in Dhaka, which needs more greeneries to combat air pollution and prolonged hot weather.
Syed Saiful Alam Shovan, an environment activist, has personally planted many native trees in Dhaka city in the last 15 years.
He said, "The city authorities are not bound by law to implement well-planned tree plantation programmes. Every year, they plant new saplings at the same places. They hardly look after the new trees. That is why Dhaka's greeneries do not expand."
The city authorities do not even carry out any maintenance of the trees.
The tragic death of renowned artist Khalid Mahmood Mithu by a tree falling on him in the Dhanmondi area in Dhaka on March 7, 2016, had pushed Shovan to investigate the issue.
"The tree had been losing its grip on soil as its roots were cut off during development of the surrounding footpath. Such negligence is prevalent because no utility service provider bothers about the survival of roadside trees while trenching the roads for developing or repairing their supply network," Shovan said.
For well maintenance of the city's greeneries, Dhaka North City Corporation has recently initiated the Dhaka Urban Plantation Master Plan project.
Under the project, a six-member committee will complete the master plan by June 2021.
US Forest Service will provide technical support to the committee. As part of the project, a census on Dhaka forestry will be carried out.
Member of the committee, Ahsan Rony, also the president of Green Savers, said that the master plan for the next 30 years will guide the selection of tree species for individual localities, tree plantation procedure, and maintenance process.
It will also fix a single authority to look after the trees.
" When the master plan is implemented, no tree can be cut down or harmed without permission, whether it is possessed by private or public organisation, or an individual. Each plantation of tree will need to follow the master plan," Rony said.