MNA Editorial Desk: The mayoral elections of two city corporations of Dhaka, one of the worst liveable cities of the world, are scheduled to be held on January 30. Mayors are majorly responsible for the liveability of a city and also its development. They are also accountable to ensure the comfort and peace of the citizens to a great extent. Dhaka city dwellers are suffering from different problems for a long time and it is becoming more troublesome to live in this city every day. The next mayors of Dhaka’s two city corporations hence should plan and execute a series of actions, initiatives and systematic changes to turn the capital into a liveable and world-class city and that will require a lot of commitment, honesty, hard work and people-oriented attitude.
If we discuss the problems of Dhaka city, obviously traffic congestion will be on top. Occupied footpath and dust throughout the city has worsened the scenario for the citizens. Excessive dust is being the greatest reason for air pollution in this city especially during this winter season. Additionally the whole city is being victims of dusts from Metro Rail construction project and the city corporations should water the roads regularly but they do not do so.
It has become impossible for people with respiratory issues to move on the streets of Dhaka now. Life does not improve much during the monsoon also as water logging comes out as another great problem then. Unplanned and non-coordinated development works only add to the sufferings of the citizens. Moreover, issues like; dengue in recent years has been derived from the lack of cleanliness of the city, which is also a major responsibility of the mayors.
The Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009 has entrusted the city corporations with over 120 types of duties under 28 major heads like public health; death and birth registration; bus, market and slaughterhouses managements; disposal of dead bodies; construction of public roads and footpaths; drainage system management; providing public safety, creating scope for public amusements by constructing parks and recreation center; patronizing education and culture; facilitating social welfare activities among other responsibilities.
According to the annual Global Liveability Index for 2019, Dhaka scored 39.2 out of 100 and ranked 138th out of 140 cities. The Bangladesh capital’s air quality was ranked the most polluted in the world on several times in the past few months and appeared to be a great concern for public health. Dhaka’s position was third on the AQI with very unhealthy air quality engulfing the entire city.
Ahead of the city corporation elections, the mayor and councilor candidates come up with various lucrative pledges for providing more civic facilities. But unfortunately they forget all the pledges after elections. In the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, 26 types of resource bases are earmarked for collecting revenues like holding taxes, rates and fees, conservancy rate, rent and fees from market, lease money and others, exempting nearly 33 per cent of the total population of Dhaka, those who live in slums.
Still, the city corporations face fund crisis due to lack of transparency in assessment and poor collection efficiency. The mayors and councillors failed to come up with innovative programs to attract citizens to pay taxes. With the current scenario of the city, there is no reason the citizens would be willing to pay any city corporation taxes.
Town planners and architects opined that over the years those who were elected as mayors and councillors in Dhaka had no clear idea on the functions of the city corporations as a local government body to provide facilities to the urban dwellers. After being elected, usually the mayors and councillors remain alienated from the people and start working to ensure their own benefits and fill the coffers of their political masters. A mayor or a councillor might not have the professional knowledge for planning and execution civic services. But, they should keep in touch with people, try to understand their demands and requirements, and take initiatives for providing those facilities.
Emphasizing good governance, the mayors will have to maintain proper coordination among the city corporations and utility service providing agencies, all the while working to eradicate corruption. We often hear about city government. But in the context of Dhaka city with two city corporations, city government is not required. Rather a good support from the central government to the city mayors should be sufficient. Making big promises before the elections should not help anyone win. This time also the mayoral candidates are already promising to change the face of Dhaka city but none was successful in giving a concrete plan till now.
The new mayors and councillors after getting elected must perform all their duties with utmost honesty. Eliminating corruption from all tiers of the city corporations will be the first challenge they need to overcome. As the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, they must declare a war against corruption. If corruption cannot be uprooted, then it will not be possible to induce people-oriented attitude and hence, the fate of the Dhaka citizens will not change a bit. Unfortunately, we cannot be much hopeful in this context right now especially with the possible councillor candidates who are mostly known for their terror, muscle and misuse of power.
The huge population of Dhaka city is a major problem as it is reaching around 30 million though the DNCC has only 2.34 million voters and DSCC has only 1.87 million voters. It would not be tough to serve these voters and their family members but the floating population is very large. Hence, a ‘City Residence Card’ should be introduced to serve the citizens. It will also help to improve utility services, environment, crime scenario, health services, education and everything else. Without decentralization of the floating population, it is very hard to improve Dhaka city and for that the government has to take necessary steps.
Our mayors often make promises beyond their reach like; promising to eliminate traffic jam from Dhaka city. It is actually not possible for them to do alone but they should at least do their parts. One of the major reasons of traffic jam in Dhaka city is occupied footpaths and roads. They must free the footpaths and compel the citizens to use those as people walking on the streets are causing huge traffic disturbance in Dhaka. For its internal corruptions, city corporations could not even make the footpaths and foot-over bridges free from hawkers and beggars. Moreover, freeing occupied road space will also increase the usable road space which will help a lot in soliciting this problem.
Most importantly, the city mayors and councillors must coordinate with different utility agencies so that they do not start development works in an unplanned way whenever they like. The works must be done in coordination. Moreover, if an agency destroys a road for some maintenance works, then they must complete the work in a very short span of time while the roads should be reconstructed immediately without any sort of delay.
Due to corrupt contractors, mayors and councillors, no actions have ever been taken against the contractors who do not complete their projects properly for which they often strike underhanded deals with officials. They do not clear wreckage and construction materials on the roads flouting Road Digging Policy 2019 for months on end, with the aim to sell those at the cost of public sufferings and polluting the air. The policy, however, requires them to remove construction materials within 24 hours from the spot and the contractors are paid for the task by the city corporations but that never happens here at Dhaka.
The city corporations must also adopt long term plans of different durations to build a system so that for maintenance works of the utility agencies, the roads need not to be damaged. They can adopt a tunnel based concept which is being widely used in most of the developed countries.
Another great problem for the Dhaka citizens is waste management and cleanliness. There is no proper system to remove the wastes from the roads, residential and commercial areas. Though the citizens pay and the city corporations deploy enough people, the works are not properly done as citizen welfare is not a headache for them. Lack of cleanliness actually creates huge trouble like; dengue and blockage in the drainage system.
Recent dengue menace was mostly contributed by the city corporations along with negligence of the people. Corruption in even purchase of anti-mosquito medicines by the city corporations did not allow us to win over mosquitoes. The main season for dengue will return soon but as the problem has slightly declined recently, we do not see any effort from the city corporations now. They will wait till the havoc reaches to the greatest extent.
Water logging during the monsoon season is also a great trouble for the Dhaka city and it is highly unlikely that the city corporations will take any measures before the rainy season comes. The canals inside the Dhaka city are all filled with wastes. The rivers alongside the city are being grabbed. But the mayors are silent. Hopefully the new mayors will be proactive rather than reactive and will take measures to revive these canals and to free the riversides to ensure proper water flow before the monsoon so that Dhaka citizens can be saved from water logging.
Ensuring public health facility, ensuring basic rights of low-income group people, making Dhaka a safe city by installing proper lights and other security equipments like CCTV cameras, constructing parks and entertainment zones for citizens, participating in anti-drugs movement, restoration of heritage sights inside Dhaka city, ensuring smooth public transportation system, turning Dhaka city an attractive option for tourists etc. are among so many issues the new mayors and councilors should address. There is a huge task ahead and we can just hope the new mayors and councilors will be dedicated to these tasks.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is continuously working to achieve the dream of Bangabandhu’s ‘Golden Bangla’ for the last decade but she alone cannot reach that goal. The new mayors and councillors must strengthen her hand in this mission by saving Dhaka city, the centre of our development, from turning into an abandoned city as we are heavily investing behind this mega city. We hope this time commitment, people’s welfare and actions will prevail over fake promises.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)