- It will determine direction for land use
- All mega plans will come under it
- Plan first was introduced in 1990
- Urban Development Directorate prepared the project proposal in 2012
- GED took over the task in 2016
From poor organisational capacity to skilled manpower crisis to a lack of funding, all have got in the way of a formulation of the national physical plan – intended for determining a direction for all infrastructure development across the country, be it in villages or towns or cities.
In 1990, the idea to build Bangladesh in a planned way by stopping random industrialisation on agricultural land had first been laid on the table. More than two decades later in 2016, the Physical Infrastructure Division of the Planning Commission was tasked with its formulation.
The General Economic Division (GED) voluntarily came up and took over the job, but its work was limited to only arranging a meeting and setting up an inter-ministerial committee, eventually causing the national physical plan to hang in the balance since 2017.
Officials at the Physical Infrastructure Division said they repeatedly reached out to the GED for completing the job, but they did not get any response.
Dr Shamsul Alam, the then GED member and current state minister for planning, told The Business Standard, "GIZ, a German development agency, was supposed to fund the project. But at some point, they backtracked and work on the formulation of the plan stopped."
The Physical Infrastructure Division should be given the responsibility to coordinate the work, he said.
On the other hand, development planner Dr Md Taibur Rahman, member secretary of the then inter-ministerial committee formed by the GED, said it would be difficult for the GED to implement the work owing to a lack of skilled manpower in the relevant field.
The housing and public works ministry has now stepped up to formulate the plan, aimed at ensuring the best possible use of land through industrialisation, urbanisation, and construction of seaports, railways and other infrastructures in a well-planned way.
An inter-ministerial meeting presided over by housing and public works secretary Md Shahid Ullah Khandaker on 13 December last year requested that either the Physical Infrastructure Division or the GED be given new responsibility for designing the plan.
The 6th and 7th Five Year Plans call for the formulation of the national physical plan to ensure maximum use of land all over the country.
Urban planners say using land in a planned way to build infrastructure will reduce regional disparities, increase investment, and create employment through proper industrialisation.
All of the government's development plans, such as the "My village my town" project, railway master plan, expressways, 100 economic zones and urban development work, will come under this national physical plan, once formulated.
Dr Akter Mahmud, a professor at Jahangirnagar University's department of urban and regional planning and also president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said, "We have to ensure maximum use of land of our country, which is very small in size when compared with its population. We need to pay attention to nature as well for this purpose. At the same time, food production and its security must be taken into consideration."
Stating that every year 1% of cultivable land in Bangladesh goes to the non-agricultural sector, the urban planner said this conversion of agricultural land use needs to be stopped. For all these reasons, the national physical plan is very important.
The plan will determine directives for ways to house more people through using less land in rural and urban areas, which will help protect the conversion of agricultural land use, he added.
"Again, we will have various measures to protect all kinds of water bodies, including rivers and wetlands, once the mega plan is done. It will be clear what land will be used for what purpose," Dr Akter Mahmud pointed out.
In this case, a law must be enacted. Neighbouring countries, including India, have the necessary laws in place, he said.
Dr Khurshid Zabin Hossain Taufique, director at Urban Development Directorate, said the national physical plan is meant for building Bangladesh in a planned way. The main responsibility for formulating this plan lies with urban planners.
For this reason, the Urban Development Directorate had been given the responsibility of the job by the Cabinet Division, but it could not carry out the work because of a manpower crisis, Dr Taufique noted.
Suggesting that various government agencies be involved in this work, the official said even if the main task is done by the Urban Development Directorate, the Planning Commission should be in charge of coordinating the entire work.