Civil servants have some constraints within which they have to work. They do not have the prerogative to speak whatever they like as political masters do and claim the credit of any good work done by the government. The present government deserves applause for completion of 'Integrated Development of Hatirjheel Area including Begunbari Khal' project. This writer's joys know no bounds when he passes through the project areas.
A report said water taxis will be deployed soon at Hatirjheel to ensure water connectivity between several areas in the city. It is expected to be launched by the end of October. Six water taxis have already been manufactured in a Chittagong factory and the authority is waiting for supply of their engines from China. Each water taxi will cost Tk. 8.5 million and is capable of carrying 45 passengers. These taxis will ply between the FDC (Film Development Corporation) intersection to the Badda Link Road and the Rampura Bridge. More water taxis will be brought in for extending the service to Gulshan and Baridhara.
In the original project document or revised document, there was no objective to use the Hatirjheel-Begunbari khal (canal) as a river route. The introduction of mechanised boats will imperil improvement of overall environment of the entire area. The objectives in the revised DPP (development project proforma) were: (i) development of the low-lying areas of Begunbari Khal and Hatirjheel as a storm water retention basin in order to minimise risks of floods in the adjoining areas, (ii) improvement of overall environment of the entire area by addressing wastewater disposal issues and (iii) construction of peripheral road, cross-bridges and walkways along the banks of the Hatirjheel area in order to address the issue of traffic congestion of the surrounding areas and protect the low-lying areas from further encroachment.
The project has a background which needs to be highlighted. There were many canals in Dhaka city. In late 2005 when this writer was the environment secretary, he thought that Hatirjheel-Begunbari Khal should be restored. His minister and minister for housing and public works endorsed the idea. Eviction programme was started. Some people were making a hue and cry. The political powerhouse asked us to postpone the programme. This shocked this scribe. He could not accomplish a good job.
People may recapitulate another event and that was introduction of mobile courts against factories having no ETP (effluent treatment plant). Mobile courts were imposing heavy fines under the environmental laws against the defaulting factories. After two-three weeks, we had to keep our hands off because of heavy pressure from trade bodies. But this writer could never forget his ardent aspiration of restoring Hatirjheel-Begunbari Khal, the big canal in the heart of the city.
The opportunity came when he was the planning secretary during the caretaker government of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed. It was his style of having direct talks with the secretaries. He used to talk at night even. He used to suggest some projects and ask about implementation of the annual development programme (ADP). Though the planning commission or division was not the sponsoring ministry or agency for development projects, the chief adviser used to ring this writer for formulation of several development projects. He used to coordinate and hasten formulation and approval process.
Amid a good number of directives like the project proposals for link road from the demolished Rangs building to Tejgaon industrial area, circular by-pass from the Prime Minister's Office to Agargaon through old airport and construction of a bridge over Gulshan lake connecting Banani and Gulshan given by the chief adviser, the writer (then planning secretary) made an appeal to him (the chief adviser) to allow him to undertake a project for the restoration of Hatirjheel-Begunbari Khal. He advised him (the writer) to convince his boss Finance and Planning Adviser Dr Mirza Azizul Islam. The latter finally agreed as he was told that the army engineering corps should be entrusted with the task of implementation of the project. In no time, he pressed the secretary, the Ministry of Housing and Public Works to submit a project on the Hatirjheel-Begunbari Khal. Yes, the project was prepared and approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council with investment cost of Tk. 14.74 billion. Major works included acquisition of land, re-excavation of the khal, construction of walkways, gardening, provision of compensation, prevention of water pollution and etc. The period of implementation was fixed between July, 2007 and June, 2010.
Later, the project was revised thrice and the cost increased to Tk. 22.37 billion. Inclusion of connecting roads, pumping station, sewerage lift station, solar power system, footbridge, over-bridge, steel box girder, diversion roads, landscaping, gardening, work and street furniture, police boxes, erection of ghats, etc. enhanced the cost. The project has now assumed a charming look. Perhaps, it is now the main centre of amusement for the city-dwellers.
We should give further thought to the Hatirjheel-Begunbari project. The main environmental issue should always be given top priority. It can easily be maintained as a modern water body and a reservoir of pure drinking water. Rainwater can also be preserved. Regular purifying practices should be adopted. More plants can be sown to attract birds. It can be made a sanctuary for birds adopting proper planning. There should be an authority, to be created by law, for the maintenance and improvement of the Hatirjheel-Begunbari project. Instead of connecting this khal with Gulshan and Baridhara lakes, the former should be managed separately. Lakes of Gulshan, Baridhara and Dhanmondi should have separate management. Tolls for vehicles and visitors and fees for shooting should be introduced. Non-mechanised boats for pleasure can ply in the canal. The Hatirjheel-Begunbari Khal should remain a water body surrounded by charming gardens with a wide variety of birds giving the flavour of Mughal gardens in the heart of Dhaka city.
The writer is a former environment secretary and planning secretary.
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