With massive development projects undertaken by the government to create an investment-friendly environment, Chattogram is becoming a commercial hub despite problems like waterlogging and traffic congestion, opined stakeholders at a webinar arranged by The Business Standard.
They, however, criticised the authorities for not having a master plan and necessary management skills to implement the development goals.
Representatives of the civil society, urban planners, architects, academics and businessmen participated in the webinar hosted on 30 December to discuss the livability and investment environment in Chattogram.
Shakhawat Liton, deputy executive editor of The Business Standard, moderated the webinar.
Mahbubul Alam, president, Chattogram Chamber of Commerce
Development projects, including Matarbari Deep Sea Port, Mirsarai Economic Zone, Karnaphuli Tunnel, Cox's Bazar Rail Line, Chattogram Port Bay Terminal, Patenga Container Terminal etc, combined worth more than Tk1 lakh crore are being carried out in Chattogram. As it is a commercial hub of the country, it is important that the projects here are completed on time.
A new jetty and a bay terminal at the port have to be constructed. If these construction works are not done, the benefits of a commercial city will not be available. The divisional offices in Chattogram need to be empowered. The local offices should have the power of decision-making.
Traders in Chattogram are facing losses due to the weight scale of Borodarogarhat. It is not allowed to transport goods more than 13 tonnes here, although in other roads you can transport 20-22 tonnes of goods at a time.
Advocate Aktar Kabir Chowdhury, president, Citizens for Good Governance (Shujan), Chattogram chapter
Chattogram has been declared the commercial capital of the country for almost a few decades. But the reality does not correspond to this idea as the development works that were expected in Chattogram have not been done due to the inefficiency of the state apparatus and the politicians.
Those who were in power at that time, those who were in the leadership from Chattogram, ministers or people's representatives, MPs, chairpersons of Chattogram Development Authority, the city corporation, nobody was seen doing anything responsibly to make the slogan real.
Those who are in power are always preoccupied with consolidating their position, facing internal quarrels and satisfying the head of the government. Their only goal is to make their individual fortune.
Chattogram is a major supplier of revenue. For this, the development of the city was very important to ensure the development of the country. But that has not been achieved. Our political leadership is mainly responsible for the failure, especially those who have been in power. There are thousands of businessmen who have no sense of responsibility. They did not do anything except defaulting on loans from banks.
The officials of the Chattogram Development Authority, WASA and city corporation consider their offices as ancestral property. Most of the time they are involved in embezzlement. As a result, we could not achieve real development. Because there is no accountability, there is no good governance. That is why we are in this situation today.
Syed Mohammad Tanvir, vice president, Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The state should not be blamed for everything. The citizens also have some responsibilities. This is a concerted effort. However, the responsibility for infrastructural development lies with the state. But if we talk about social development, then citizens also have many things to do. The biggest problem in Chattogram is waterlogging. Every year, the people of Chattogram suffer from this problem. It is the responsibility of the city corporation and the CDA to solve it.
However, citizens are also responsible for waterlogging. We dump waste everywhere. Sewers are always jammed with plastic, polythene or plastic bottles. The wastes we throw in the drain go to the river. A huge amount of wastes was found when dredging in the Karnaphuli river.
Chattogram will play a very important role in the growth of the economy of Bangladesh in the next 10 years. The government has a target to achieve a GDP of $1 trillion in 2031 and the contribution of Chattogram here would be 30%.
Many big projects like The Mirsarai Economic Zone, Bay Terminal, Karnaphuli Tunnel and Matarbari Deep Sea Port are going on in Chattogram and people will be benefited due to the economic activities regarding these projects. But we, the people of Chattogram, are not ready yet for this development growth. The government, government agencies, city corporation, CDA, civil society, Chattogram chamber and other institutes have to come up with an integrated plan to take it forward. It is not possible for anybody alone. Both the government and people have to take responsibility.
We do not have the necessary training centres to create a skilled manpower for these huge economic activities. There is no adequate accommodation facility, no healthy living. For this, the private sector has to come forward. The Japan Desk has signed an MoU with a trade body in the country for the first time where any investor from Japan would be able to get any information about Bangladesh.
The country is lagging behind in the Ease of Doing Business. We have set up the Japan Desk to provide One Stop Solution, One Stop Service. We are providing services like company formation, tax advisory, corporate formation, recruitment etc to the Japanese investors.
Japanese investors are contacting us to invest in the Mirsarai Economic Zone. But the zone has a water supply problem as different companies have different requirements. So, we need to formulate a master plan based on these requirements.
Engineer Subhash Barua, vice president, Planned Chattogram Forum
There is no qualitative discussion on the water congestion and traffic congestion problems in Chattogram. Development projects worth thousands of crores have been implemented, but the problems persist. We do not have any development philosophy behind all these activities. We do not have any proper management.
We are talking about metrorail to reduce traffic congestion. It will be able to transport 60,000 passengers per hour. But this city does not have more than 5,000 to 6,000 passengers to travel regularly. Although there is a mega cost to implement the mega project, there is no mega profit. The work that is being done for Tk1,000 could have been done for Tk1 only.
We are not doing any deep investigation of our problems. The master plan was formulated in 1995, but there is no planning department to implement it. As a result, the work of the first phase of that master plan could not be started in the last 26 years. So, to change this situation, we need to reform the plan.
The construction of the Bangabandhu Tunnel would create a new mess in the communication system of Chattogram. We have no plan on how the vehicles coming from South Chattogram will enter and exit the city through the tunnel. Three more feeder roads have met at the Patenga end and there are regular traffic jams at Faujdar Haat Point. Now imagine what the situation would be when 4,000-TEU containers will be transported from the container terminals on the side of the road. Besides, the city corporation is allocating space to shops by occupying the opposite sidewalk.
The Chattogram Development Authority is to be blamed for the mismanagement. It is approving the construction of buildings without any plan for the people who would live there. So, we have to make a master plan again to save this city.
Architect Zerina Hossain, general secretary, Planned Chattogram Forum
We have to follow a road map to reach the top of development. But it is a matter of regret that we do not have any plan.
The authorities are building flyovers, one after another, but there are no sidewalks for pedestrians. The flyovers are constructed at a cost of Tk4,000 crore to attract investors. But what would happen to the rickshaw-pullers of the city? There is no one to think about them.
Now there is a discussion on creating satellite towns in Hathazari, Patia and Boalkhali outside the city. But all these were included in the master plan of 1995. There could have been a university town centred on the Chattogram University which is a popular concept around the world.
The matter is, the CDA or city corporation have no desire or ability to do this. How can people live in a city where drainage, sidewalks or roads are not good? We need a different mindset regarding policy from the government. On the one hand, there is a demand to reduce traffic congestion,but on the other hand, the government is allocating loans to buy private cars. To reduce traffic congestion, the bus service has to be improved by reducing the number of private cars.
Dr Mohammad Rashidul Hasan, head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, CUET
There is no way to think only about the Chattogram City Corporation or CDA. From now on, we have to think about the regional plan of Chattogram. We have to think of the region without the promise to make it like Singapore. Chattogram has a history of 1,200 years. The region must be developed in line with the prime minister's 100-year delta plan.
The government has already come up with a grand plan for Matarbari. Economic zones are being set up in Mirsarai, Sitakunda and Anwara areas, where millions of people will be employed. We have to make a plan now on how to accommodate them.
Since 1967, there have been five master plans for drainage systems in Chattogram city, but none of those were implemented. The government made these plans with huge funding, but there is no accountability for the outcome of these plans.
The existence of 34 canals mentioned in the 1967 plan from Sadarghat to Kalurghat in the city could not be found in 1995. Khatunganj-Halishahar has now become an abandoned part of the city. If investors do not feel safe travelling around the city, why would they invest here?
The task of the CDA was to implement the government's plans, but they have started a housing business.
Architect Shahinul Islam Khan, chief urban planner, Chattogram Development Authority
Bangladesh is now the 168th investment friendly country in the world which is a 10-step progress from the previous position. We have taken a huge initiative to create an investment friendly communication system in the country. We are constructing roads to increase road connectivity. We are also constructing many flyovers.
Public transports need to be increased to reduce traffic congestion as it is a densely populated city. We also need to introduce dedicated bus lanes. The number of cars in the city is increasing every year. Flyovers are being constructed as a solution to increase road capacity.
We are focusing on communication infrastructures and completion of these projects will ensure a fast and uninterrupted communication system. It takes 30 minutes to reach the city from the airport through the Outer Ring Road via Bayezid Bostami. Once the elevated expressway is completed it would take 15-20 minutes from the airport.
Rezaul Karim, climate expert and former chief urban planner of Chattogram City Corporation
Chattogram is a coastal city and a major city in the region where around 40,000-45,000 people live per square kilometre. As a coastal city, we are at an environmental risk.
However, population density is not an issue if the infrastructural facilities are ensured.
The impact of climate change is increasing day by day and will continue to increase. The city has a coastline and also hills which are made of sand. People are continually coming to the city due to river erosion, floods, droughts and cyclones. Many are making their homes by cutting down the hills. As a result, these sands are mixed in the rain and creating waterlogging in the rainy season.
The pressure on the city could be reduced if satellite towns could be made in the surrounding upazilas. Transporting containers from the port via train instead of bus or lorry can reduce traffic congestion on the roads.