Adieu to Dhaka’s civic crusader

Staff Correspondent
Thursday, December 7th, 2017


 

The legacy of Annisul Huq will be difficult for future leaders to live up to

 

With the untimely death of Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Annisul Huq half of the city has lost its true guardian, who had envisioned a cleaner and safer city. His life has been cut short by serious ailment but his accomplishments as a television compare, as business leader and finally as a city father will be long remembered. He left behind an enviable resume, consisting of a charismatic television anchor, successful businessman, head of trade and industry bodies like BGMEA, FBCCI and SAARC Chamber. In his crusade to clean Dhaka city, he had drawn the ire of unscrupulous contractors and labour union leaders, but his steely determination could not be deterred. Many say that perhaps it was this “great burden” of making Dhaka livable that took its toll on him physically.

 

But all these could not tarnish his reputation and legacy, which many of his critics have conceded – not because he passed away – but because these were ‘politically’ unpopular initiatives taken to heal Dhaka in the long run. Like the dialogue in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” – “You live long enough as a hero to see yourself become a villain”. He was last vindicated in the waterlogging crisis that Dhaka experienced recently, which was unfairly put upon his broad shoulders, as the foundation of those mistakes were laid by his predecessors decades ago.

 

“My first endeavour as a mayor was to remove the illegal billboards occupying Dhaka for such a long time,” Annisul Huq had told Dhaka Courier (during an interview for a cover story on ‘Making Dhaka Livable’). He said, “I have been criticised later on for trying to remove the illegal establishments in the city, especially the one in Tejgaon where the police and my officials faced an unruly mob while trying to clear the truck stands. But these are tough decisions which I have to make.”

 

His battle for waste management has also been lauded by even his fiercest critics (who can forget “Clean Dhaka – Green Dhaka’s DCC waste bins across the city?) “So far we have been able to build 58 secondary waste transfer stations though we needed 72 with two in each of 36 wards. Some had to be set up on footpaths and roads because there are no vacant spaces,” Annisul had said then.

 

No one can forget how the media had extensively covered his demolition drive in Tejgaonin November 2015, where he was confined by a faction of transport owners. Undeterred, he was successful in removing the illegal structures and later beautified the stretch of road by planting trees on the islands. He also made the road a no-parking zone in 2016.

 

The mayor also took an initiative to relocate the Karwan Bazar kitchen market to Mohakhali and Jatrabari. He held several meetings with traders and businessmen in this regard, and received a positive response from them.

 

On May 18 this year, he inaugurated a women’s holiday market in Mohakhali. As part of the initiative, Annisul announced that every female entrepreneur would be eligible for a no-deposit loan of at least Tk25 lakh for setting up shops there.

 

The DNCC mayor increased employment benefits for city corporation cleaning staff, in a bid to improve the cleanliness of the city. Annisul had a habit of checking up on the activities of the cleaning staff late at night, or at the crack of dawn. As homage to the late mayor the DNCC cleaners worked an extra hour than their daily routine on Sunday, a day after Annisul was laid to rest at Banani Graveyard.

 

Among his environment policies, the mayor launched a project to replace all the streetlights in DNCC with LEDs.

 

Annisul’s other notable initiatives as Dhaka North mayor include announcing a no parking zone from Amin Bazar to Shyamoli, delivering bills directly to contractors’ offices, taking initiatives to press 4,000 new buses into service throughout Dhaka, constructing 22 U-loops, and demolishing 20,000 illegal billboards.

 

He also implemented measures such as banning rickshaws from some city streets, installing CCTV in key areas of Dhaka, and construct many public toilets.

 

He had a number of other plans to make the city of Dhaka better in every aspect.

 

Before his time as a mayor, he was widely known as the chairman of Mohammadi Group, a renowned conglomerate of the country. The company started its operations in 1986 in the garments industry with merely 52 workers; today employees over 9,000. The company has over the years diversified and excelled in Real Estate, Power Generation, Information Technology and High-tech Entertainment. The company’s newest endeavor, a TV channel, is set to air very soon.Business schools still refer to his company as one of the spearheads which ignited Bangladesh’s private sector booms in the early 1980’s.

 

Even before the Mohammadi Group venture, Annisul had his exposure to RMG sector courtesy Desh Garments at a time when he became a popular face in BTV as a television compare. He even played a lead role in a popular BTV drama of yester years.

 

I had the distinct opportunity to interview him back in 2013, well before he was considering standing as a mayoral candidate. Back then, everyone knew him as former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

 

“The Bangladeshi people are the biggest hopes of the nation for their resilience and adaptability,” he had said back then, “The people have proved setting an example that this country can develop with 6% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) during the most difficult time of political turmoil.”

 

As someone as successful as him, he had a bird’s eye view of the evolution of business in Bangladesh. “One says that it is always better to expand where your expertise lies. But in Bangladesh context, it is a bit different — the entrepreneurs who once started and got themselves established in garments, have gradually expanded to many other sectors — financing, insurance and different manufacturing. Quite a few of them have been successful. So, I think, entrepreneurs have graduated and learned how to take risks and do business in other areas.”

 

Despite creating employment for hundreds of people as an entrepreneur, his inclusive nature always reflected among his words, even more after becoming a mayor. “General people are the main source of power for doing anything. If they don’t cooperate with us, it won’t be possible for me to build a beautiful city,” he had once said.

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