The government is creating master plans for all upazilas to provide better civic amenities to people and the documents would guide future development activities at the upazilas for planned urbanisation.
The master plans include development of urban and rural infrastructures for best land use and protecting the environment.
Out of the 495 upazilas, master plans have already been prepared for 14 and the preparation of master plans for eight other upazilas are in the final stage.
The creation of the master plans is part of the government's strategy for turning Bangladesh into a developed nation by 2041.
Separate master plans for all upazilas will be formulated by 2030.
In addition to the upazila headquarters, the entire upazila will be incorporated into an upazila master plan design. There will be designated sites for housing, hospitals, markets, schools and colleges, playgrounds, agricultural farms, and industrial facilities.
The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is implementing the upazila-based master plan formulation under the "Technical Assistance Project for My Village-My Town". The ruling Awami League's election manifesto of 2018 pledged for planned urbanisation and increasing civic amenities across the country through the implementation of the "My Village- My Town" mega plan.
Monzur Sadeque, director of the technical assistance project, stressed the need for formulating separate master plans for all upazilas saying, "The master plan will guide future development activities. There is no alternative to the formulation and implementation of upazila master plans if we want to ensure planned development of urban and rural areas at the upazila level."
LGED officials told TBS that the development of rural economy, creation of employment opportunities, reduction of inequality, and poverty reduction through proper planning and development work is one of the main objectives of the formulation of upazila master plan.
Proper implementation of the master plan will ensure the best utilisation of land resources of the upazilas, while the increasing demand for accommodation and urban civic amenities can be met through public-private partnership. Besides, it will be possible to preserve agricultural land, reservoirs, natural canals, water flows, open spaces, playgrounds, parks, etc.
Expressing similar views, Akter Mahmud, professor of urban and regional planning at Jahangirnagar University, said agricultural land, and wetlands are being destroyed due to unplanned construction across the country.
"But nature, agricultural land, and wetlands need to be conserved for the sake of future generations. So, it has become necessary to prepare development master plans for all the upazilas of the country."
Dr Md Musleh Uddin Hasan, professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said preparing a master plan is the first step toward planned development.
"Once prepared, the master plan should be made into a compulsory document. Therefore, in the second phase, the master plan should be made into a government gazette. An institution must be made responsible for ensuring that everyone follows this. At the same time, the institution should be equipped with adequate manpower and necessary logistics."
"After that, government agencies at the upazila level will build the infrastructure according to their respective responsibilities. For example, those who will be responsible for the construction of schools will set them up at designated places. They will not be required to look for a site to set up a school."
Akter Mahmud of Jahangirnagar University, however, said upazila master plans are local level plans. There should be another plan at the national level – the national physical master plan – which will guide development strategies for the entire country by preserving the rivers, canals, banks, hills, forests, and plain lands.
The national-level plan will include strategies for all kinds of development activities, including how a specific region of the country will be developed, what kind of industry will be in any area, and where economic zones will be set up, he suggested, adding upazila master plans should be prepared in light of this plan.
Formulation of the national physical plan and upazila master plans at the same time will be beneficial, he said.
Dr Salauddin M Aminuzzaman, a local government specialist, and professor of the Department of Public Administration at Dhaka University, told TBS that even if the LGED formulates the upazila master plans, it must take opinions from elected public representatives to local government.
"Infrastructure development activities should now be spread to the union level from the upazila level. The LGED will understand well where the roads will be, where the hospital or school will be, and where the markets will be. They have that technical skill. However, if the LGED does this work alone, then the local government is undermined.
"Ideas about which roads will pass through which areas should come from the local government. Especially, in the development of infrastructure up to the rural level, if the opinions of the chairman and members of the union and upazila parishads are not taken, then the development work may face obstacles at the implementation stage."
Progress so far
The feasibility study for the formulation of upazila-specific master plans under LGED's "Technical Assistance Project for My Village-My Town" has been completed.
Based on the survey report, a separate project will be taken up for the formulation of the master plans. The average cost of preparing a master plan design for each upazila is estimated at Tk11 crore. As such, more than Tk5,000 crore will be spent on preparing master plans for all upazilas.
Project Director Monzur Sadeque said the LGED completed the preparation of master plans for 256 municipalities in the country between 2005 and 2020. In the next stage, an initiative has been taken to formulate the upazila master plans, he said, adding that the municipal master plans will be updated during the preparation of the upazila master plans.
LGED officials said the department has set a target to prepare a project proposal for the formulation of upazila master plans, get it approved, and start implementing it within the next one year.
They also said that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already agreed preliminarily to finance the project. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has also expressed interest in financing such projects.
According to officials, the Urban Development Directorate prepared master plans for 14 upazilas in 2014. These upazilas are Dohar and Nawabganj in Dhaka, Shibchar in Madaripur, Raipur in Lakshipur, Shibpur in Narsingdi, Ishwarganj in Mymensingh, Faridpur Sadar, Bagmara in Rajshahi, Gangni in Meherpur, Saghata in Gaibandha, Sonatala and Sariakandi in Bogura, Ramu in Cox's Bazar, and Rangunia in Chattogram.
Besides, the LGED is working on the preparation of master plans for12 other upazilas, which include reviewing and updating four upazila master plans that were prepared in 2014. The eight new upazilas include Manoharganj in Narsingdi, Lalmai in Cumilla, Fakirhat in Netrokona, Kaliganj in Satkhira, and Dumki in Patuakhali.
The work is scheduled to be completed by December 2023.
Although master plans have been prepared for several upazilas, none have entered the implementation phase.
According to urban planners, if the master plans are to be implemented, urban planners should be appointed up to the upazila levels. At the same time, necessary logistic support should be provided and institutional capacity should be strengthened.
What the plan contains
The development plan prepared for Nawabganj upazila in Dhaka includes guidelines for controlled use of land for roads, houses, industries, open spaces, schools and hospitals, protecting as much land as possible for agriculture.
The plan, though scheduled for 2013-2033 period, was submitted to the housing ministry's Urban Development Directorate in June 2018.
It has five tiers of development works to be done in 5, 10 and 20 years both in urban and rural areas.
In its land use zoning, the plan keeps the highest share of land (56.8%) for agriculture, followed by nearly 20% for residential purpose, 15.6% for water bodies, and 1.6% for transportation, earmarking around 0.5% land for manufacturing and processing, economic zone, health services, and educational institutions.
It also reflects people's wish list, setting improved healthcare, transportation, and education among development priorities at the union level. The plan short-listed nine projects to be implemented in two five-year phases till 2023 at an estimated cost of Tk46.68 crore.
As upazila parishad does not have its own revenue source, it will need more grants from the government or development partners to finance such projects, consultants for the plan suggest.
Though it is more than four years since the plan was submitted to the Urban Development Directorate, local officials know little about the extensive 226-page plan with detailed area maps.
Matiur Rahman, chief executive officer of Nawabganj upazila, said he does not have any idea about the upazila master plan.
Shibchar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Md Razibul Islam also said he does not know about the master plans as he has joined the upazila very recently.
Long way to go
The planned township and integrated rural development will require infrastructure and service facilities that can be done by the proper utilisation of such urban and rural area plans. This in turn will make a positive impact on economic growth, social progress, and environmental sustainability in the whole region, says the project document.
In a report launched on 29 September in Dhaka, the World Bank also stressed the need for the development of a second tier of urbanisation to create jobs outside the two major cities – Dhaka and Chattogram.
The report, "Bangladesh Country Economic Memorandum: Change of fabric", calls for getting urbanisation right as it finds the benefits of urbanisation have slowed in Bangladesh due to high concentration on two major cities and poor development of secondary cities.
It feels the need for developing transport routes and digital connectivity to attract firms and people to small and medium-sized cities and create tradable activities in all types of towns.
But the plan is too big to reach the stage of physical implementation as the master plans for all the upazilas will take a few more years to get in shape.
The LGED's feasibility study report has proposed the preparation of master plans for upazilas in different phases. Master plans for 90 upazilas will be formulated in each phase.
The report also said that it has been proposed to prepare master plans in different phases due to the lack of institutions capable of preparing city-centric master plans.