Two years on since Atiqul Islam and Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh assumed the helms of the two Dhaka city corporations – North and South respectively, the duo managed to accomplish very little of the plethora of pledges they made to the city dwellers.
Both the mayors made bold promises including the improvement of terrible Dhaka traffic, eliminating waterlogging and eradicating mosquito infestation, but they failed to fulfil any of the pledges to its entirety while experts observe their approaches are largely flawed hindering any real impact.
Dhaka North Mayor Atiqul Islam took office on 13 May 2020 and Fazle Noor Taposh followed suit in Dhaka South three days later on the 16th.
In the polls manifesto, Atiqul made 38 pledges to build a healthy, vibrant and modern city while Taposh promised to build a traditional, beautiful, vibrant well-governed and developed Dhaka with some 50 pledges. But in two-years' time so far, the two mayors failed to begin work for most of their pledges.
One of the major pledges both the mayors made in their polls-manifesto was to improve the city's traffic condition, which in reality has deteriorated from it was two years back. According to a study by the Accident Research Institute of Buet, loss of working hours due to traffic in 2018 was 50 lakh hours, which by 2022 rose to 82 lakh per day and financial loss because of it increased from Tk101 crore to Tk139 crore.
Atiqul's polls-manifesto pledges included implementation of a coordinated plan with all stakeholders on board; installing push button signal for road crossing; introducing dedicated transport for school-college students; public facilities for citizens with special needs and ensuring mass transports for them; setting up parking lots and launching electric buses – all of which remain unfulfilled.
Dhaka South mayor pledged to regulate and manage the mass transport movement towards establishing separate roads for fast moving vehicles, slow-moving vehicles and people on foot as well as improving road crossing – which also remain unfulfilled
However, both city corporations have so far launched the Bus Route Rationalisation service in collaboration with BRTA, that too only on one route. They have plans to expand the service to three more routes.
According to transport experts, the Dhaka Nagar Paribahan, the name under which the Bus Route Rationalisation is operating, will be able to reduce traffic congestion only when buses of the same company operate under the control of the city corporation or any specific organisation.
Mayor Atiqul said, "We have planned to arrange school buses for the students of every school in the city. I will take immediate action to discuss the matter with the education ministry and the school authorities."
Urban planner Professor Adil Muhammad Khan told The Business Standard that dedicated bus service plays a vital role in reducing traffic congestion in any city.
"One of the reasons for the unbearable traffic jam in the capital is private cars. Traffic congestion cannot be brought under control in Dhaka unless the quality of public transport is improved," he said.
"If the authority can manage to launch some 4000-5000 buses under the Dhaka Nagar Paribahan within the next couple of years, it will be possible to bring the traffic congestion to a tolerable level," suggested Adil, executive director at the Institute for Planning and Development (IPD).
Based on both mayors' pledge, the city's canals were handed over the city corporations from Wasa on 31 January 2021. However, both sides are yet to improve water flow to the canals and gain control of all the water bodies and as a result waterlogging improved little.
Taposh claims during this monsoon city dweller will get rid of the waterlogging within 30 min, which according to him used to take one hour. On the other hand, Atiqul claims waterlogging has declined in the city compared to previous years.
Waterlogging hotspots since 2020 have dropped from 142 to 42, he said and added that the north city has formed 10 quick response teams for 10 areas to tackle waterlogging.
Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), says that the method being used to rescue the canals and rivers of Dhaka will not bring any benefit at all.
Besides, it is not possible to save Dhaka from waterlogging by rescuing canals in this way, he said.
Mosquito menace remains
In the last fiscal year, Dhaka south was able to spend Tk20 crore from the allotted Tk50 crore for mosquito control and Dhaka North spent Tk55.5 crore from their allotment of Tk80.5 crore.
In the 2021-22 financial year, there is an allocation of Tk 110 crore for Dhaka north Tk 35.30 crore for the south South with majority of the fund is for buying pesticides.
Last year, the country recorded the second highest number of dengue cases and deaths. In 2021, 28,429 people were hospitalised with dengue and 105 died.
Experts fear this year's dengue outbreak to be worse than last year's.
"Even at this time of the year we are hearing some 10-12 dengue patients are seeking treatment which is not good news," Entomologist Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury told The Business Standard.
This crisis has been created because the city corporation has not taken proper measures to eradicate Aedes mosquitoes that are responsible for the deadly dengue fever.
"Virus tracking should be done and the medicine should be applied according to the location of the patients," he recommended.
Chikungunya, another deadly disease caused by the Aedes mosquito, could also happen this year, he warned and added, "We must be aware in advance."
He also observed that actions from the city corporations in this regard are not that visible.
Atiqul said a rapid action team is working in the north as part of many activities to control dengue.
Taposh said the south city is conducting a special drive to destroy the breeding ground of Aedes mosquito within 400 yards of the dengue patient's residence and surroundings.
Both mayors' promise to modernise the waste management system of the capital has also fallen short as of two years of their tenure. Although a number of Secondary Transfer Stations (STS) have been set up, the number is insufficient, waste dumping also takes place outside the STS zone and often kept exposed hours.
Dhaka south Mayor said they have set up 51 STS so far and work for another 11 are in progress.
North mayor said all wards under north city have STS and work for producing electricity from waste is in progress.
He said he is hopeful that the improvement in waste management will be visible by 2023.
Reducing air and sound pollution
Although Dhaka has been listed among the most polluted cities for the past few years, neither of the city corporations could take any pragmatic steps towards reducing air or sound pollution.
Atiqul said they have plans to introduce electric buses to reduce air pollution. Two "hi-tech" equipped spray cannons are used to spray water for the same goal, he said
Taposh said, fuels used for transports accounts for 80% of the air pollution, brick kilns are responsible for 10% and the remaining 10% is caused by factories and infrastructure development.
"Brick kilns, factories and infrastructure development works are given a specific deadline to operate," he said.
About sound pollution, he said traffic congestion is the prime cause behind it and they are working on improving it.
He added that rules barring random honking of horns will be implemented.
Other common issues in the capital
Even with a regulation in place for digging roads in the capital, random and uncoordinated road digging by multiple agencies are common across the capital and are causing sufferings to city dwellers.
The mayor of the south said no digging would be allowed in the rainy season without the permission of the city corporation.
Space on sidewalks across the capital is shrinking day by day due to roadside stores and hawkers doing business while in some places sidewalks have ceased to exist because of ongoing development work. In the last two years, neither of the mayors could ensure any dedicated place for hawkers or move them from the sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the residents of old Dhaka are still living with deadly chemical storages in their neighbourhood. Even after the tragedies of Nimtali and Chawkbazar, authorities failed to contain the business in the area or shifting warehouses.
Among other work, playgrounds and parks have been developed in several areas. Online holding tax payment activities have started. Dhaka North has launched an app – Shobar Dhaka – to solve civic issues. A total of 34 public toilets have been set up for everyone including people with special needs. In Gabtoli, construction of four 15-storey buildings is underway for cleaners.
The work to relocate the bus terminal from the city is also in motion to further ease the traffic, said the mayors.
"Dhaka city is an unplanned city. Many problems of the city can be solved simply by utilising all the city corporation bodies and reducing dependency on the mayors alone," said Adil Muhammad Khan.
He also suggested that taking measures to solve community-based issues will lead to more problems being taken care of.
"For this, a long-term plan is required with everyone on board," he added.