Dhaka canals exist only in documents
All the open natural canals in the capital's southern part from the Buriganga to Bangla Motor area have disappeared for the "development" of the city over the years although many of them still exist in government records. According to the records, in the area there are at least eight canals--Dholai canal, Narinda canal, Segunbagicha canal, Arambagh canal, Gopibagh canal, Paribagh canal, Kathalbagan canal and Dhanmondi canal. But these canals now exist only in the memory of elderly city dwellers.
The Water and Sewerage Authorities (Wasa) and the Dhaka City Corporation have robbed these canals for constructing roads and box culverts in the name of development. Environmentalists said such unplanned development is now taking its toll by inundating vast areas in the city during the monsoon.
To add to this plight, government agencies, private business houses and real estate companies have now targeted the Begunbari canal and Hatirjheel wetland. Environmentalists and experts on urban issues now fear that the lone open canal and the adjoining wetland in the mid- and southern parts of the city are under threat and will be robbed soon.
"If the Begunbari canal and adjoining wetland cannot be saved, the drainage balance [of the city] will be totally destroyed," said architect Iqbal Habib, canal and wetland expert with Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa). Over the years all the canals across a vast area of the city from the Buriganga Bridge at Postagola to Demra intersection, Sayedabad bus terminal to Kamalapur Buddhist temple, Khilgaon, Rampura, Badda to Gulshan area, Dhanmondi, and Mohammadpur to Tejgaon area have disappeared.
All the rainwater and liquid waste of the central part of the city are drained out through the Begunbari canal that starts from the rear side of the Sonargaon Hotel and flows up to the Rampura bridge, covering an area of more than three kilometres. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Sonargaon Hotel, Hotel Hilton, Biam building, and a few CNG filling stations have either already built or are intending to build structures there. A few of these organisations have built structures without the approval of the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha.
"We have acquired the canal. So, the general people will not be able to occupy the canal," said Wasa Superintendent Engineer Md Zahurul Alam. A few housing companies have also been filling up land in Hatirjheel area, the only surviving flood retention space for the central part of the city.
The canal has become narrow in the area because of earth filling. The vast wetland where, according to legends, the elephants of Bhawal King used to bathe, has now become an open field. Environmentalists alleged that a couple of housing companies, a well-known chain store and a private university have been filling up the wetland for years.
The present caretaker government has recently directed to cancel all allocations on the railway land in Hatirjheel and Begunbari areas. A former communications minister allocated railway land for constructing buildings of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Bangladesh Textiles Mills Association, International Arbitration Centre, Hotel Hilton, and a few CNG filling stations. Experts said only an announcement is not enough to protect the valuable wetland. "It needs proper planning and re-excavation of the wetland to save the city from inundation. The government should take immediate steps to stop development activities there," said Bapa expert Iqbal Habib.
THE ROBBED CANALSFollowing the floods in 1988, the government formed a committee to review the inundation problem of Dhaka city. The committee identified three "cluster canals" in Kalyanpur, Segunbagicha and Begunbari, each having four to six branches. The Segunbagicha and Begunbari cluster canals have almost completely disappeared over the years.
The Segunbagicha cluster canals netted the Old Dhaka and Gulistan area with its branches--Dholai canal, Segunbagicha canal, Arambagh canal, Gopibagh canal, Gendaria canal and Jirani canal. Among these, Segunbagicha, Arambagh and Gopibagh canals are basically a single canal that flowed through Bijoynagar, Purana Paltan, Fakirerpool, Arambagh, Notre Dame College, Motijheel and Gopibagh towards the Bashabo stadium. O
nly around 300 feet of the Segunbagicha canal is now found open near the Gopibagh rail gate. Box culverts have been built over the rest while buildings and shops have been constructed on the two sides of the culverts. Box culverts have also been made over the Dholai canal, which has played a significant role since the Mughal era. The canal started at Babubazar and flowed through Zindabahar lane, Goalnagar, Nababpur, Narinda, Jaluanagar and Farashganj and then fell in the Buriganga.
At least six canals--Paribagh canal, Dhanmondi canal, Rajarbagh canal, Kathalbagan canal, Bashabo canal and Mohakhali canal--were connected with the Begunbari canal at Panthakunja. However, none of these canals now exist as the authorities have built box culverts over them. Rainwater and liquid waste from a vast area including Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Tejgaon industrial area, Shahbagh and Ramna are drained out through this box culvert canal network. The Mohakhali canal, which starts at Nakhalpara and is open at some places and covered elsewhere, flows to the zMohakhali bus stand and Niketan in Gulshan. It connects Begunbari canal. The canal is slowly being filled up in Niketan area (P. Roy, 29. 06. 07).
Dhaka's open canals Must be made operational
There was a time when all excess water from Dhaka city used to end up in various adjoining rivers through numerous open canals crisscrossing the capital. But, over the years, in the name of creating new roads, government offices, residential plots, shopping malls etc., all these canals have been filled up by various government agencies. It is reported that the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) are in the forefront of these agencies that have filled up canals without creating any alternative means for the stagnant water to find an outlet. This has resulted in the obvious -- severe water-logging in the city even after a small rainfall.
But, surprisingly, that is not the end of the story of encroachment on open canals in Dhaka. Right at this moment some government agencies and private developers are in the process of grabbing the Begunbari canal and Hatirjheel wetland existing in the heart of the city. According to city planning experts, if the Begunbari canal and adjoining wetland gets filled up, the drainage balance of the city will collapse. The irony is, despite the concern of the environmentalists and experts, authorities concerned are yet to take any measure to stop the illegal encroachment.
The inundation of the capital city after a shower is too conspicuous to overlook. The city virtually comes to a standstill with vehicles clogging the roads and streets for hours together. On the other hand, if the open canals were in operation today the excess water would have been carried away in no time to everyone's relief. We wonder what more is needed to make the city planners wake up and take action. There is no denying that the capital city has to be kept functional since it is the hub of our economic and other developmental activities. As such, the authorities must have a system in place to keep the city free from such problems. We strongly suggest the relevant authorities to recover the canals from illegal grabbers and make them operational once again to save the capital city (Editorial, Daily Star, June 30, 2007).
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