More than a hundred years ago, in 1917, British urbanist Patrick Geddes came to design a plan for Dhaka and considered two questions most important:
First: What does Dhaka want to be?
Second: What do the denizens of Dhaka want this city to look like?
RAJUK has failed to address these two questions with due importance in their proposed Detailed Area Plan (2015-2035). The purpose of this article is to outline how.
Cart before the horse
Plans are now made to formulate the proposed "Detailed Area Plan (2016-2035) before finalising the "Structural Plan", which contradicts the basic criteria for planning.
In the formulation of the master plan - under section 63 of the Town Improvement Act, 1953 - the DAP for the area under RAJUK should have been finalised with the direct participation of experts and people, in line with the existing laws.
Unfortunately, the proposed detailed zoning plan completely lacks analysis, which has made many of the plans in the current draft plan baseless, conflicting and unacceptable.
Moreover, as the GIS database and working papers are not linked to the current draft, it is difficult to find a rationale for comparative figures on land use, especially in the case of water bodies, open space and agriculture.
The proposed draft did not take into account the definition of natural reservoirs given in Act No. 37 of 2000 when classifying floodplains.
Also, there is no provision in Act No. 37 of 2000 to classify floodplain areas into "main watersheds" and "general watersheds".
Besides the so-called "main watersheds", the "general watersheds" and "general floodplains" have some proposed conditional changes when it comes to land use and approval of installations, all of which are contrary to court orders and public interest.
If such a proposal is adopted, the city, which is at risk of flooding, waterlogging and awful groundwater depletion, will lose 70 percent of its natural water resources while the floodplain will shrink to 17 percent instead of six percent.
Ambiguity in the plan of land use
Looking at the proposed land use area under this plan, one will get more frustrated.
The proposed plan includes proposals for (a) residential areas, (b) agricultural areas, (c) forests, (d) four types of areas used for different purposes, (e) open space, (f) institutional areas, (g) commercial areas, heavy and polluting industries.
Although there are proposals for the usage of the mentioned areas, there is no statement on the wetlands or floodplains.
In addition, in the recent detailed zoning plan, wetlands have been shown as specially characterized areas, which in turn belong to agricultural areas.
According to the judgment of the High Court dated June 8, 2011 on act no. 37 of 2000 and writ petition no. 6072/2010, it has been recommended to identify 1,43,289 acres of 418 mouzas as floodplain areas.
The judgement has made legal action necessary against all individuals and organisations filling the reservoir, without any form of exception.
Incidentally, after so many years of continuous failure to "controlled development" as per the rules, a new chapter (Chapter 7) titled "Guidelines for the approval of structures without permission" is added to legalise all those illegal installations and constructions where three types of deviations have been allowed illegally.
Before the addition of the new provision in the law, there was no scope for the approval of such illegal establishments, rather the law made their removal or conditional rearrangement mandatory.
In the meantime, although there is still a strong social aspiration to widen the city roads, about 98 percent of which are of minimum standard, i.e. less than 6 metres or 20 feet wide, the plan to do so has been abandoned under section 2.5.4 of the resolution.
Disregarding the population density
Chapter 3-9.2 is a manifestation of the failure to account for population density in the layout plan. Two misinformations have been presented which don't go along with the global standards.
Contrary to the 1996 rules, an eight-storey building can be constructed on a three katha plot beside the same three-metre wide road as per the existing rules of 2008.
In this case, all the issues including surrender of land for road widening, drainage of rainwater or spilled water and earmarking of land for greenery have been ignored while the need for road widening has been evaded more than once.
Besides, it has been claimed that these rules are applicable only in Dhaka city, which is not true, as its implementation is now being imposed on all divisional cities including Chattogram, Rajshahi and Khulna.
No initiatives were taken in the proposed plan to determine the quantity of dwelling units which is an important element of gauging population density. Also, the usage of 3D modelling is absent in the plan which could have pointed out the fact that the "certain percentage" of a high value land could have actually increased the value of the total land if the former was used for proper drainage system and conservation plot for greenery in this densely populated city.
The misinterpreted high-rise factor
At present, the main problem of Dhaka is that the entire city is virtually covered and there is hardly any open space. There are a number of important points omitted while arguing that leads to unwanted controversy over high-rise buildings:
First, the decision that affects the "capacity of road infrastructure" is one of the five pillars on which the capacity and height of a community block are determined in order to control "population density" as specified in 4.3.1 in the 1953 Building Rules (2001-2006). It has been suggested to make a change in the relevant sections.
Second, it is said that the city has become uninhabitable due to high rises. But according to the planning preparation survey of 1,528 square kilometres of this city, more than 84 percent of the total 21.45 lakh installations have been found to be single-storey buildings.
The number of buildings from sixth floor to tenth floor is about 60,000 and above tenth floor is only 17,000. In fact, a third of the city's population lives in slums.
Therefore, as the city is almost entirely occupied, the amount of spilled water from rain or other sources has increased over time, which is affecting all drainage installations and infrastructure.
A further review of proposals was desirable as it is necessary to increase the number of dwellings by building high rises through limiting the amount of "covered land" in each plot in the best interest to protect open space.
The missing provision for drainage
There is no explicit project proposal or strategy for establishing a "blue network" through rescuing canals in the proposed plan.
Instead of proposing stricter disciplines to conserve water bodies, the construction of buildings on canal-adjacent plots has been approved. The River Task Force has identified and rescued 65 canals which has now come down to 26.
It has been proposed to remove the obligation of parking in residential buildings as per Dhaka Metropolitan Building Construction Rules 2006. Instead, an alternative parking space could be provided at the community level.
As a result, only 7-8 percent of car owners across the city will have no choice but to bring the already burdened roads under legal parking due to housing activities including shopping.
The proposal to abolish the parking system for the affluent at their own disposal is like indulging in a policy that favours the rich again.
Lack of planning for the housing of poor
The responsibility for creating and distributing housing facilities for the poor people rests constitutionally on the shoulder of the state.
The absence of a well-defined proposal and process for real housing for 44 percent poor in the city is very painful.
In line with the ridiculous tendency to deprive the poor, the plan has maintained its traditional style to make the land a 'commodity' by allocating 2.4 percent of the project in Purbachal and 2 percent in the Uttara (Phase 3) project.
Despite the decision to implement DAP through the formation of an appropriate authority in the 2010 DAP, it was handed over to RAJUK as an 'additional' responsibility for the time being.
Due to lack of organisational specifications for the implementation of DAP, RAJUK, which has already failed as the project formulation and development control authority, has further been given the responsibility to implement it along with the proposed 18-member advisory committee.
Such proposals are unfounded in the wake of the failure of the past DAP (1995-2015).
What should be done?
A 'disciplined' journey towards urbanisation through the reorganisation of RAJUK board with the representation of public representatives and professionals is highly desirable, which has been omitted in the proposal.
Therefore, a further inclusion needs to be finalised under the tutelage of professional associations that advocate the participation of all stakeholders.
Ensuring "knowledge-based actual participation' is the key to success when it comes to preparation and post-approval implementation of this important document. Therefore, it is also an obligation.
Iqbal Habib is an architect