The Panthokunjo Park at Karwan Bazar, in the heart of the capital, has turned into a place of dread and distress for city dwellers.
Over the past few years, the triangle-shaped park has become a waste dumping ground and a sanctuary for drug addicts and criminals. It is now a hotspot for snatching, prostitution, and trading in drugs, according to locals and passers-by who have blamed the present situation on a lack of concern on part of the authorities concerned.
A few days ago, Shafiqul Islam's phone was snatched away while he was sitting on a bus next to the park. He tried to chase the robber but his efforts went in vain.
Shafiqul Islam told TBS, "When I went after the snatcher into the dark of the park, he bounced back with a sharp weapon. I fled, running for my life."
"These crimes are happening in front of everyone's eyes but there is no remedy," he lamented.
Shiblu, a passerby, told TBS, "The park smells really bad. It is a hangout for drug addicts and snatchers. Prostitutes and transgenders made it worse."
Dhaka South officials said the development work of the park has been halted because of the ongoing work of the elevated expressway project, which involves installing several pillars in the park.
Located on the opposite side of Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel next to Karwan Bazar Saarc Fountain, the five-acre park under Dhaka South has been lying in a dilapidated state for more than four years.
A few days after revamp work started in 2018, on a budget of around Tk19.20 crore, the work came to a standstill.
Since then, the dumping of garbage, the stench of faeces, and fears of mugging have turned the park into a synonym for terror to local residents.
The police, for their part, have said maintaining law and order at night is difficult as there are no lights in this area.
The TBS correspondent, visiting the area, saw that the tin-shed wall of some parts of the western side of the park was damaged or removed. The park is now filled with bushes and garbage. The drains that were built inside the park have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and insects.
A large part of the park used to be a playground, but it no longer exists. Drainage pipes and bricks were seen scattered or piled up in open spaces.
Various building materials were also stored in the two tin-shed houses on the southern side of the park. Temporary houses have been constructed in at least four places within the park.
The structures on the northern side of the park were seen littered with garbage. Accessories used in various crimes can be seen lying in different parts of the park. Stolen wallets, mobile covers, and ladies' handbags were also noticeable.
The distance between Banglamotor and Kawran Bazar intersections is short, and snatchers in the park take advantage of it.
They walk on the pavement like regular people and wait for gridlocks to form on the road. Then in snappy moves, they snatch phones from stranded passengers' hands and quickly disappear into the park.
Apart from snatching, there is another nuisance that occurs in the evening. Prostitutes, including transgenders, sit in rows along the footpath on the eastern side of the park, hoping for customers. They often call out to passers-by through obscene gestures.
There are no lights in the park and on the footpaths around it. The city corporation claims the lights were destroyed by a syndicate of robbers and transgender people dwelling in the park.
Md Shaheen, who is in charge of the security of construction materials kept in two tin-shed houses in the park, told The Business Standard, "At night, the entire park is ruled by drug addicts, robbers and prostitutes. Drug use and trade continue during the day."
Shahbagh police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Mohammad Moudut Hawlader told TBS, "The countless misdemeanours reported around Panthokunjo Park embarrass us too. We have been repeatedly asking the city corporation to provide street lights in the park."
A police patrol team is on round-the-clock duty near the park, the OC added.
Md Abu Nasher, public relations officer of Dhaka South, told TBS, "The elevated expressway project officials asked for space to install 12 pillars inside the park but the mayor gave permission for only three. There has been disagreement over the matter."
"In a recent meeting, the mayor said no pillar of the expressway will be allowed in the park. The city corporation will develop the park on its own," the official said, adding that development work will start soon.
On 20 July, Dhaka South Mayor Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said that the elevated expressway has closed down Panthokunjo Park for 10 years. "The expressway is not supposed to have any exit inside Dhaka. I have cancelled the plan for setting up pillars as it will ruin the park."