Mubasshar Hussain, architect and vice president, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), talks to Naznin Tithi of The Daily Star about the prospects of redevelopment of Old Dhaka and the measures that should be taken for an effective relocation of the chemical warehouses situated there.
Since the deadly Chawkbazar fire, the issue of redevelopment of Old Dhaka has been under discussion. But what does this redevelopment mean? Will Old Dhaka's distinct character remain intact after its redevelopment?
Old Dhaka can be turned into the most beautiful place in Dhaka if we can properly redevelop it. As part of the redevelopment process, the heritage buildings should be protected and renovated if needed, keeping their original character intact. Recently, Sardarbari, a heritage site in Sonargaon, was renovated by a team led by the past president of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB). Likewise, the old buildings that have been declared heritage buildings by the High Court should be renovated and protected. To encourage people (owners) to protect the heritage buildings, the government should introduce a law—TDR (Transfer of Development Right), which already exists in many countries. Moreover, the unauthorised buildings should be removed and Bangladesh National Building Code-2008 should be followed in building new structures.
Setting up water hydrants in the roads of Old Dhaka is something that we have been demanding for long. Dhaka is the only capital in the world that is surrounded by four rivers. But it is most unfortunate that during fire incidents, the fire brigade often cannot do their work properly because of insufficient water sources. If there were water hydrants, scarcity of water would never be an issue. However, water hydrants will not serve any purpose unless the fire brigade buys special pumps which will be connected to the big vehicles. These pumps can be unlocked from the vehicles and dragged to the site of fire. Such pumps were used in the small towns of the country in the past.
Do you think the way the government has been progressing with their relocation plan and conducting drives against chemical warehouses and factories will be sustainable? How about engaging the local residents with the whole process?
The decision of relocating the chemical and plastic warehouses and factories in a separate area must be implemented to save Old Dhaka from recurring fire incidents. But forcing the owners to do so, disconnecting the utility lines, and fining the owners of warehouses may not help. If the traders are forced to stop their business here, new chemical factories will spring up at different corners of the city and the whole city will be at risk.