Many people become awestruck upon having a view of Dhaka from the 7th floor rooms of Bangla Academy's new building. As they pan their eyes across the greater Ramna area, they turn nostalgic. The older residents of Dhaka might recall the days when trees filled almost all the city's vacant lots, earning for it the sobriquet of a green city. Alas, those days are gone, perhaps never to return.
Shockingly enough, the view from the 7th floor building is deceptive. It camouflages the barren and arid look of the fast-growing city beneath the veneer of lush greenery. Apart from Ramna, the other city zones nestled in arrays of leafy trees include Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Agargaon and parts of Mirpur. The rest are all concrete, large swathes crammed with high-rise apartments and office buildings. In this dusty and sterile spectacle, there are hardly any patches of green. The view is dreary and makes one feel tired.
Ironically, Dhaka was once famed for its green-cool look. Poet Buddhadev Bose fell in love with Dhaka. He has called the Dhaka of his times one of the world's best places to live in. With its tentacles of urban grey encroaching virtually on all green expanses, Dhaka is now one of the world's most dingy cities. This ill reputation has been in the making for the last 10-15 years. It is especially during this period that Dhaka has gleefully torn asunder its image of a green city. The process of denuding Dhaka began much earlier, though.
Things took a turn for the worse after Dhaka City Corporation was split into two authorities --- Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) in 2011. With two separate offices given the charge of looking after the municipal affairs of the city's south and north, the works related to urban welfare finally ground to a halt. It stemmed from the post-bifurcation administrative failure to comprehend the problems facing the city. Instead of elected mayors, the two city corporations had bureaucrats as their heads. Among other areas, tree plantation was one that had to bear the brunt of administrative confusion.
After a comparative study on the performances in tree coverage of Dhaka, DSCC has been found to be trailing its northern counterpart. It has been learnt that the yearly budget allocation of DSCC granted for tree plantation has remained unspent for four years in a row. DNCC used a small sum of the fund for planting large and small trees in designated areas, especially road dividers, in the last four years. But the task has turned out to be shabbily executed. In almost all the cases, trees in Dhaka North have had to bear with ill maintenance that led to withering and deaths of a great number of them. That the DSCC fund for trees remains unspent creates enough scopes for incredulity. The corporation's performance assumes proportions of the absurd when its officials blame a lack of ideal places to plant trees for its inability to use the fund.
It's true the capital is being squeezed fast in a frenzied government and private development spree; but designating some areas exclusively for trees also deserves priority. The government's periodic pledges on making Dhaka an ideal city sound hollow with tree plantation placed on the back burner. There have been many allegations. One is lack of coordination between Dhaka development authority Rajuk and the two city corporations that stood in the way of planting adequate trees in the city. The three entities work independently. But in executing some projects, they ought to be mutually cooperative. Despite difference in the nature of their works, their roles are complementary in some areas of job. Tree plantation is one of them. If they cannot agree on the basic points, intervention from the higher-level government authorities can be sought.
Regardless of their age and global status, all big cities have grown trees profusely. In these times of environmental concerns, trees play a critical role in the development of modern cities. If the two elected Dhaka mayors drag their feet on planting trees, they will do the city a disservice.
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