Emerging like a breath of fresh air in the concrete jungle of Dhaka, Hatirjheel has been serving since its opening as a prime recreational spot for the millions who feed off the capital on a daily basis.
However, its present state is causing great discomfort to locals and visitors due as unabated pollution threatens to overwhelm what for so many is an urban oasis.
VIsiting Hatirjheel and surrounding spots 6 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the water in the lake was seen discolored at places and some of the visitors complained about odor pollution. Unplanned waste disposal was a common sight as well.
Naim, one of the locals and the owner of a shop near Gudaraghat area adjacent to Hatirjheel lake told UNB that the degradation in water quality predates the pandemic, and goes right back to the unveiling.
“The beauty of Hatirjheel is fading away for improper waste mismanagement and it is bad for the business too,” he said.
Currently, Hatirjheel serves as one of the key routes to travel for people residing in Rampura, Mahanagar project, Madhubag, Begunbari, Kunipara, and Merul Badda area. Since 2015, circular bus service and water taxi service from 2016 has been functioning as an essential means for commuters.
One of the passengers of the water taxi, Harun Ahmed, who was traveling to Rampura said in the rainy season the stench of water at places becomes unbearable.
Discussing the pressing issue of mismanagement and pollution in Hatirjheel, Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) General Secretary and a faculty of Department of Urban & Regional Planning at Jahangirnagar University Adil Mohammed Khan said this can serve as a lesson for the future.
“Although it started as an aesthetic project to develop the Hatirjheel area that was in dire condition before, the Hatirjheel project cannot serve as drainage support, it wasn’t meant to be that ever,” he told UNB.
He highlighted that one of the key reasons behind the sorry state of lakewater and pollution is the dumping of wastes through underwater sewerage lines.
“There are a number of sewerage connections underwater that dump garbage directly in the lakewater. As long as that continues, the situation will not improve,” the BIP General Secretary told UNB.
He also drew attention to DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam’s recent comment on ‘misplanned’ Hatirjheel project and emphasised the proper execution.
“You see, the original plan which was approved; it was not properly designed considering the management in adjacent areas. All the stakeholders should learn from mistakes made in this project and correct them in future endeavors," he told UNB.
He also spoke about alternate methods of waste disposal and noted why the authorities should double down against improper planning.
“Most of the sewage lines that are disposing of waste in Hatirjheel are illegal. When you plan to erect a building you need to include a proper waste management system in design. But the authorities tend to look the other way in some cases, this practice should be stopped entirely,” he said.
Adil Mohammed Khan also expressed skepticism over the activities of those who are responsible to overlook the maintenance of the project. “They should speed up their effort to save the project.”
Experts urged the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), city corporation authorities and other stakeholders to come to a swift and sustainable solution to the crisis.
Rajuk Chief Engineer and Hatirjheel Project Director ASM Raihanul Ferdous explained that due to Covid-19 pandemic, an undergoing project to purify the lake water had to be halted.
“The water purification project was functioning in an early stage but our Australian and Chinese experts have left due to Covid-19,” he told UNB.
He also assured that as soon as the situation improves the water purification process will resume as before.
The 311-acre project area was partially opened on January 2, 2013. Since then the site has drawn huge crowds becoming one of the gathering hubs for the city people, especially on the weekend and festivals.
The project, kicked off in July 2007, was originally scheduled to be completed by December 2010 but it was extended several times.