At noon of June 27, a middle-aged woman sat under a shade in Jatrabari, selling cigarettes and betel leaves. I asked her for directions to the Jatrabari kitchen market. She pointed to the market behind her. When I told her that I came to visit the kitchen market, she warned me.
"If you go into the market alone, someone may snatch your mobile phone and money," said the woman, requesting me not to tell anyone that she told me this.
I was confused about whether to go inside alone or not. The woman also added that the place has now become a den for local criminals and drug addicts.
Jatrabari wholesale kitchen market is one of the three wholesale markets Dhaka City Corporation built to relocate the Karwan Bazar wholesale kitchen market. However, the market has been left unoccupied since its completion in 2015. Like the Jatrabari market, the Amin Bazar wholesale market and Mohakhali market are now being used for other purposes.
The sorry state of Jatrabari wholesale kitchen market
Like the woman, very few people want to talk about what happens inside the Jatrabari wholesale kitchen market. There is a small residential colony housing low-ranking employees of the Dhaka South City Corporation next to the market. But even they refused to talk about what goes on inside the market.
Later, I took a boy with me from the area to visit the inside of the market. Built on five bigha land, the four-storey Jatrabari kitchen market building was supposed to house as many as 895 shops from Karwan bazar.
However, the market has been left unutilised as it is still incomplete. Inside the market it looks like a ghostly place. The third and fourth floors of the market are totally vacant. In the middle of the market, there is total darkness even in broad daylight.
Some parts of the second floor are being used as a rickshaw-van garage. Most of the shops are locked and some of the shops' shutters have been stolen. The shops have been filled with the waste from the fish market. There is no one to look after the market.
Masum Mollah, the ward commissioner of the area admitted that criminal activities may take place there.
"As it is an abandoned place, criminal activities can happen inside the market," Masum Mollah told The Business Standard.
Mohammad Arifur Rahman, superintending engineer of the Dhaka North City Corporation, who has been overseeing the newly built markets, said that they are in the process of handing over the market to the Dhaka South City Corporation.
"The work of the market has not been completed yet. We will hand it over to DSCC and they will finish the remaining work," said Mohammad Arifur Rahman, who is the fourth project director (PD) of the project.
When asked about the existing state and security measures for the market, the PD said that he is a new PD and no work has been done during his time.
"There was no allocation for the maintenance of the market in the project. As a result, we could not spend any money on the security of the market," said Arifur Rahman.
Ariful Haque, the chief revenue officer of Dhaka South City Corporation, said that a decision has recently been made to hand over the market to them.
Amin Bazar Market turns into a garage
The Amin Bazar kitchen market was turned into a mechanical workshop and depot of the Dhaka North City Corporation during the tenure of the late mayor Annisul Huq. Construction vehicles as well as vehicles of the waste management department are kept there, and maintenance work on vehicles has been done inside the market since then.
On a recent visit to the market, this correspondent saw employees of the Dhaka North City Corporation busy working on the vehicles kept in the market. The Amin Bazar kitchen market was built on 33 bigha of land.
"We had to make it our workshop because the landfill in the Amin Bazar is close to the workshop. Another reason is to keep the place safe from land grabbers," said Abul Hasnat Md. Ashraful Alam, the superintending engineer of the mechanical department of DNCC.
"We will shift our workshop when we will be asked to do so," said Abul Hasnat.
The project director of the market said that they will build some more shops in the market to accommodate some more traders from Karwan Bazar.
"The plan was to relocate 549 shops to the Amin Bazar market. But as the Mohakhali market was turned into a permanent hospital, 360 more shops will be shifted here," said project director Arifur Rahman.
A Covid-19 hospital in Mohakhali market
During the covid-19 situation, the government turned the Mohakhali market into a 500-bed Covid-19 hospital. After the completion of the market in 2014, the market was left unused till last year. The Dhaka North City Corporation at first made it a Covid-19 hospital and later the city authority announced that it will be used as a permanent hospital of the Dhaka North City Corporation.
Earlier, the city corporation had a plan to relocate 360 traders from Karwan Bazar area in the Mohakhali market. They will now be relocated to Amin Bazar market.
Uncertainty in relocation
Dhaka's largest wholesale kitchen market sits at the heart of the city for a long time. To reduce traffic congestion in the area and to ensure smooth market operations, the government took the decision to relocate the traders of the Karwan Bazar to somewhere else.
As part of the initiative, the government decided to build three markets in the city. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved a project in 2006 at a cost of Tk206 to build the three markets in the city. Later, the project cost increased to Tk350.
The government failed to relocate the wholesale traders of the Karwan Bazar to newly built markets even after all these years.
Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam told The Business Standard that the wholesale market cannot be at the centre of a city. He said wholesale markets are established in the peripheral areas of a city all over the world.
"We are talking to the members of the parliament of the areas and the business leaders of the market. It is still at a preliminary stage," said Atiqul Islam.
When asked how many days it will take to relocate these businessmen, Atiqul Islam said he does not want to share the timeframe.
"When it will be in the final stage, we will let you [journalists] know," said Atiqul Islam.
However, the business leaders of Karwan Bazar complained there are structural as well as communication problems with the newly built markets. They said that the city corporation officials did not talk to them when the construction of the market began, as a result, shops of the market are smaller than what they need.
"The size of a shop is 120 square feet. We said we need 400-square feet shops," said Omar Faruk, president of the Karwan Bazar Khudra Kanchamal Arot Baboshaye Bahumukhi Somobay Samiti.
"We had come to a consensus with the late mayor about the problems of the markets; the mayor assured us to solve the problems," added Omar Faruk. "After the death of mayor Annisul Huq, no mayor directly discussed with us the relocation plans.
Adil Mohammed Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said that relocation is only possible if the city authority is sincere and there is political commitment to do the job.