A mess in using space: Land zoning remains on paper only

Wafiur Rahman
Thursday, October 12th, 2017


There is no contest against the allegation that land in a country where it is scarce resource is not being used properly, let alone the best use of it, in absence of effective regulation backed by prudent policy planning. What we see is a haphazard growth of concrete structures both in rural and urban areas, commercial establishments and infrastructures – development, and of course much-needed development, that can hardly be considered sustainable in any standard.


The issue of land zoning for appropriate use of land is being discussed for quite some time. But it is said that industries cannot be built on areas most suitable for the purpose and it has not been possible to aptly regulate the housing and development of market places here and there. Land grabbing by influential people, cheating in acquiring and registration of land, corruption in land administration are often blamed for misuse of land.


Currently Bangladesh is losing agricultural land at a rate of nearly 1% per year, according to a report by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Data from the Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI) shows that over the course of 24 years before 2000, Bangladesh was losing arable land at an annual rate of 13,413 hectares; but since 2000, the rate has jumped to 68,690 hectares per year.


A survey, led by Abul Barakat, economics professor at Dhaka University, found that some 2,096 bighas of farmland and water bodies were lost to non-agricultural uses per day in the decade since 2003.


Thus, we as a nation have been plagued by risks and sometimes unintended consequence of development despite its relevance. The country is losing farmland at a rate of 1% a year and we are also damaging our ecology as reflected in pollution and various man-made accidents and everyday suffering.


Who knows that this country has a policy in this regard? The National Land Use Policy 2001 is a document which has been better kept in official files and now finds a place at the official website of the Land Ministry. The policy has emphasised the importance of land zoning for the best use of land, keeping residential areas separated from industrial zones or forest from infrastrural intervensions.


‘The residential and industrial areas in most cities and towns have not been developed in consistent with environment-friendly development planning despite such provision in Town Improvement Act 1953. Instead, we see shops, market places, school, colleges, clinics and hospitals and even industrial units in areas which are originally meant for building residences. We notice the same tendency in rural areas as well,’ noted M Saiful Islam, a former land secretary who issued the gazette notification of the land use policy in June 2001. He mentioned that they referred to demarcation of land for various uses so that each segment of development does not clash with another and the environment does not suffer.


According to Asian Development Outlook 2013, land shortage is emerging as a major constraint on infrastructure and industrial development. Unplanned urbanisation is compounding the problem of finding suitable locations for enterprises, which are excessively concentrated in the capital (and also its’ surrounding areas).


Dwelling on the issue, former president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) Md Fazlul Hoque said industrial zones including the BSCIC (Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation) industrial estates cannot cater to the needs of the entrepreneurs as they, he argued, were set up mostly on political consideration.


‘The businessmen will obviously go and set up enterprises in places that are suitable for industries. But such principle has not been followed in most cases,’ he said citing the example empty estates in many district headquarters. Narayanganj, he pointed out, is an industrial belt where there is scarcity of land. Saiful Islam, too, said land had been acquired in different parts of the country for setting up BSCIC industrial estates but industries were not built there up to the expectation whereas entrepreneurs suffer from scarcity of land in other parts of the country.


However, the key objectives of the land use policy are addressing the alarming trend of shrinkage of arable land to ensure food security, proper regulation and management of land by introducing zoning system, protection of khas (undocumented) land for the purpose of future development, maintaining compatibility between land use and protection of environment and best use of land through construction of multi-storied building for both public and private sectors. The policy has also identified as many as 10 broad areas for use of land in Bangladesh. They are agriculture, housing, forestry, rivers, water bodies and marshland, road infrastuctrures, railway, commercial and industrial establishments, tea and rubber gardens and horticulture, coastal belt and char (shoal) areas.


The crisis of land and the fallouts of the misuse of land never indicate that the land use policy is at all effective. Expert Prof. Kazi Saleh Ahmed said the higher demands for land is because of population growth, economic development, building of towns and roads and higher demand for utility services and civic amenities. ‘Such a situation is leaving negative impacts on our living space. ‘We are losing our land to be used for various purposes especially food production,’ he said.


In global ecological footprint, a measure of human demand on the earth’s ecosystems, Bangladesh is ranked a debtor country of biocapacity, which is the environment’s ability to replenish the resources. Unfortunately, the country also belongs to a region (of The Living Himalayan) where natural resources are vital for the livelihoods of the local people but ‘mountain ecosystems are under severe threat from increasing populations and haphazard infrastructure development’.


The unplanned development, particularly by the unauthorised euthorities sometimes having nexus with a section of corrupt officials, is taking a huge toll on the country’s envorinment and natural resource base. Mushrooming of brick kiln, encroachment into water bodies and marshy areas and illegal hill-cutting and felling of forest trees are all creating a serious crisis for us all.


Speaking to our sister agency UNB, Housing and Public Works Minister Engineer Mosharraf Hossain said that if someone intends to construct a house even at a village, permissions will need to be taken. The City and Area Planning Act 2017 has been proposed in that regard, he added.


The draft policy has been submitted to the Law Ministry, the minister said, where it will be subject to a voting process, after which it will be raised at a cabinet meeting for final approval. It was passed in a cabinet meeting on March 20, which included a provision of five years rigorous imprisonment and fine of maximum Tk 5 million for those who would be found to have violated any rules, plan or order under the law.


He is hopeful that ratification of the act will be raised at the next parliamentary session and will soon be implemented thereafter. The Urban Development Director (UDD) will oversee the implementation of the act under his ministry.

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