MNA Editorial Desk: Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal of India is the closest neighboring foreign city of Dhaka. Both the cities hold a lot of similarities in terms of culture and characteristics–major of which makes them the largest two cities of the world is the most number of Bengali speaking people. There is a strong tie between the cities. Both the cities have gone through immense development during the past decade. While Dhaka is focusing on building a better infrastructure, Kolkata is focused on being an aesthetic city. We have a lot to learn from Kolkata.
Dhaka has been ranked as the second least livable city among the world’s 140 cities in last year’s Global Livability Index released by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Only Damascus in war-torn Syria lags behind Dhaka meaning we are competing with a war torn city in terms of its livability qualities. We all know that Dhaka is becoming more terrible to live as every year is passing by. Many suggest it is due to the mammoth population of the city or due to resource constraint or due to our inability to keep the city nice and clean.
But if we look into Kolkata and perhaps the best case for comparison with Dhaka, we can clearly see that it is neither population, nor resource constraint or cultural habits that contributed to the diminishing livability of Dhaka city. Even in the seventies, Dhaka used to be a beautiful green city while Kolkata used to be a city with heavy garbage, frequent load shedding and horrendous traffic condition. But today Kolkata has definitely climbed up the ladder from many aspects while Dhaka is fighting with the possibilities of extinction. Today, according to Times of India Kolkata ranks the best among 21 selected Indian cities.
Kolkata has a population of nearly 14 million people with metro population of 4.5 million while Dhaka also has 14 million with metro population of 7 million. However, the spread of urban Dhaka is much lower than that of Kolkata at present. Kolkata has one basic advantage over Dhaka with higher number and length of streets along with a very effective metro rail service which addresses a major part of the transportation issues. Along with that citywide tramways and over 50,000 taxicabs solves the transportation problem. Today Kolkata has no garbage on the streets which tend to sparkle with adequate lighting in the evening everyday.
The citizen services are also a great strength of Kolkata. It has 48 government hospitals whereas Dhaka has around 23. The better treatment facility of Kolkata is very much evident in the fact that many Bangladeshis go to Kolkata for better treatment. Educational facilities at Kolkata are also way better. The Kolkata government also runs 14 universities compared to just four in Dhaka. Moreover, the education system is not corrupt in Kolkata which ensures building a competitive future generation which we lack in Dhaka or to say in Bangladesh.
Kolkata has come out of the curse of traffic jam while Dhaka has fallen into the trap. Kolkata now has dozens of flyovers to tackle traffic situation. Though Dhaka also has few flyovers but in Kolkata, not only the flyovers but also the streets below the flyovers are well maintained with greeneries and effective traffic system. On top of it, Kolkata uses a ‘One Way’ street rule as many streets remain one-way in the morning in one direction, and in the evening in opposite direction. This concept is still to be used in Dhaka which can solicit the problem of heavy traffic during office opening and closing hours. Most importantly, the empowered and effective policemen on the streets of Kolkata also contribute in better traffic management.
It is also noteworthy to mention that Kolkata is comparatively safe for women. Women can safely return to their home even after midnight using public transports without any threats while that remains very difficult in Dhaka. Moreover, the lighted roads and strong role of law enforcers makes it easy for any commuters to use the roads anytime in the night.
The cleanliness is a beautiful aspect of Kolkata today. They keep all their roads clean and no garbage is found on the roads. Public places like their famous Gorer Math is always kept neat, clean and green. But Dhaka fails in doing so and if we ever enter places like Suhrawardy Udyan we will be able to realize our poor condition.
Recreation, street food, night life, large shopping malls, apartment lifestyle; on any account, Kolkata is moving ahead of Dhaka. With the development of the new town, the government is trying to make Kolkata an attractive city for the tourists. There are many recreational centers now with few others in the pipeline alongside with famous Victoria Memorial. Even a few years back, the tourists had almost nothing to do at Kolkata but now the scenario is completely different. But Dhaka is still a living hell for the tourists.
So, there must be something Kolkata is doing differently from Dhaka. Though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken some drastic steps to improve the scenario of Dhaka, her single effort will not be sufficient. We need integrity, pledge and love for Dhaka city to upgrade its status. But unfortunately most of the policymakers have severed themselves from the services this city provides. For health care they fly to Singapore, for their children’s education they rely on western countries and when they buy homes they buy it in Canada or Australia. Corruption and inability of long term thinking is taking us backwards.
Many will argue that comparing Dhaka with Kolkata is not justified as Dhaka is the capital of a country while Kolkata is the capital of a state. But we can all take good lessons from any place which is performing well. There is a delusion that economy of Dhaka is much more affluent than that of Kolkata. But in reality, Dhaka is compatibly less developed than other cities of Asia. Even though Dhaka is comparatively higher in count of land area, number of population and labor forces but still it lags far behind economically.
This tremendous change of Kolkata took place in a very short time especially after Mamata Banerjee became the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2011. She took many initiatives to make Kolkata city a better place to live. It is the contribution of her government that there is almost no power cut and no political or non-political strikes in Kolkata today which used to be traits of that city. Government tenders and their sanctions are totally completed through online platforms now. She has done fabulous beautification of Kolkata – a 360 degree change from what it used to be before 2011.
CM Mamata initiated several projects for the improvements of human life. ‘Kanyashree’ project, which was later taken by UNICEF as a model, was initiated to empower girl child. She initiated ‘Yubashree’ project to support millions of unemployed youths by providing them Rs.1500 per month till they get jobs. ‘Sabooj Sathi’, another landmark project of Mamata government has provided cycles to students of Class 8 to 12 so that they can reach school easily from their distant location as well as can return safely without becoming targets of goons or rapists.
‘Fair Price Medicine Shop’ is another revolutionary project of her giving people excess to medicines in a 65-87 per cent lower rate. Moreover, treatments in all government hospitals are completely free. Government has also initiated strong mother and child care systems to ensure health of pregnant women and new born babies. For 8 crore Bengalis, she took another project named ‘Khadyasathi’ giving people an opportunity to purchase rice at Rs. 2 per kg, one rupee lower than the central government’s ‘Food Safety Act’ of Rs. 3 per kg. The farmers were provided ‘Kishan Credit Cards’ for emergency investment.
Mamata Banerjee launched over 50 new colleges and universities including girls’ colleges within just 5 years. More than 85 polytechnic colleges got started alongside giving the people of West Bengal access to Education. Her government also increased the spread of metro-rail from 15-20 km to over 100 km covering many import areas around Kolkata. She also started ‘Ladies Special’ trains.
During the rule of Mamata’s government, the middle and small industries experienced a large growth and young entrepreneurs are coming up in numbers which is making the city stronger in terms of economy. Along with that, unemployment is also going down.
Mamata Banerjee and her government addressed all the basic rights of a citizen- food, health, education and everything else. Her efforts have taken Kolkata to new heights. Dhaka is also going through several developments under the rule of PM Sheikh Hasina’s government. But if city is not livable and the citizens are not comfortable, then there is no point of such developments.
To improve Dhaka, we know it will take time and will require some drastic steps like; expansion of the metro area, decentralization of administrative operations, better transportation system and many things else. All these should be part of a long-term plan and requires adoption of modern technology. We are in a fight to save Dhaka city and truly we can learn a lot from Kolkata.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)