Satellite town projects limping

Although the government decided in principle to build satellite towns around Dhaka city to reduce population pressure on the capital, implementation of the project is yet to begin.

According to reports, the National Housing Authority was assigned to construct the proposed Bongshi-Dhamrai Satellite Town, Ichhamati-Sirajdikhan Satellite Town and Dhaleshwari-Singair Satellite Town and the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) the proposed Kamrangir Char Satellite Town.

The Indian conglomerate, Sahara India Pariwar showed interest to construct the proposed Bongshi-Dhamrai Satellite Town, Ichhamati-Sirajdikhan Satellite Town and Dhaleshwari-Singair Satellite Town. But Sahara has recently been found to be a fraud and the government has consequently abandoned these three projects. Now the government is interested only to build a well-planned residential area in Kamrangir Char.

The authorities are planning to allow Malaysia to construct the Kamrangir Char residential area under public-private partnership. A total of 10,000 apartments are scheduled to be built in Kamrangir Char, demolishing the unplanned buildings there. A Malaysian has already visited the proposed area in Kamrangir Char. The work of preparing an inception report, a mid-term report and the draft final report has already been done. On other satellite town projects, the government said that it might consider acceptable proposals from renowned companies if they show their real interest to build those in future.

Earlier, the Sahara India Pariwar on May 23, 2012 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Housing and Public Works for investment in the housing industry of Bangladesh to set up the satellite townships and other housing projects in the country. The Sahara India wanted to invest around $120m to $125m in Bangladesh’s real estate sector for which they sought 100,000 acres of land on the outskirts of Dhaka from the government.

Given the big demand for new and better planned urban development, it is both feasible and urgent for the government to find new reputable investors to allow all the four plans to go ahead. Satellite towns in areas surrounding Dhaka are the kind of project that the government should be investing in for the nation’s future. Dhaka needs to develop in a way that takes pressure off its centre, while mitigating sufferings of the city dwellers against endless urban sprawl.

What is alarming is that all the development projects under RAJUK, such as new satellite towns, construction of other housing projects, and city development schemes are behind their completion deadlines as progress has been very slow. The reasons behind the slow progress are alleged negligence and irregularities, repeatedly changing high officials during tenures of different governments, wrong selection of bidders, sheer dilly-dallying in land-acquiring move and delay in starting the groundwork.

In fact, every time after change of the government, changes are made in every project as the administration appoints new officials and project directors on political considerations. Moreover, contractors of different projects, who get the job by bidding lower than the estimated costs, sometimes deliberately delay the work to obtain more money by using political influence. Currently, RAJUK runs 19 big projects in and around the city where it has to build apartments, roads, bridges, flyovers and has to improve the condition of lakes.

Development of Purbachal New Town Project, which was planned to be developed by possessing land at Rupgonj in Narayanganj and Kaliganj in Gazipur, started its project 20 years ago. But the project has failed to meet several deadlines, and is yet to be completed. The government planned this satellite city project in 1992 and land acquisition started in 1993. Moreover, the 300 feet wide Purbachal Link Road also missed its completion deadline. Besides, there have been no initiatives about the 20,000-flat project in Purbachal.

Another RAJUK project, located at Keraniganj and comprising 381.11 acres of land, could not be materialised as yet. The authorities started handing over the plots to owners only recently. But RAJUK did not take any step to start construction of 9,500-flat project in the new satellite city. It planned to hand over flats to the affected land owners of the adjoining areas of the Hatirjheel-Begunbari Project by 2014. Allocation of flats was supposed to be started by December 2013, but it has not started as yet.

As the country is an over-populated one and agricultural land is very essential for producing food to meet growing needs, many experts say Lauhajang and Srinagar upazilas under Munshiganj district could be developed as satellite towns of Dhaka. The upazilas are situated by the river Padma from where the proposed Padma Bridge would start. The land of the upazilas is very low in general and remains under water half of the year. In this area, crops can grow only once in a year. It is about 25 kilometres from zero point of Dhaka. The distance is less than that of Uttara or of Mirpur.

As this is a low land, its height could be increased up to Dhaka-Khulna highway level by filling silt from the river Padma, which can be helpful to control the river for safety of the bridge. Low-valued land of the upazilas from agriculture point of view can help convert it into a satellite town that would facilitate habitation to millions of people and reduce ever-increasing pressure of population on the capital. On the other hand, production of crops would be less affected as the present low land is one cropped, say the experts.

There is no denying that the land is precious and necessary in order to accommodate both the country’s food and housing demands. Keeping these in mind, the government can consider building satellite towns all over the country. If the concept of satellite towns is realised in and around big cities of the country, a vast area will also see the light of development.

The government needs to explore new partners and investors to build the satellite towns. It is vital that satellite towns are built with ready access to local employment opportunities and have good public transport links for people who want to commute. Satellite towns are an important component in the urban planning mix and should be encouraged as a move in the right direction.

Shahiduzzaman Khan
szkhan@dhaka.net

thefinancialexpress