Free Dhaka's footpaths
The High Court on Monday directed government authorities concerned to stop 'leasing' footpaths in Dhaka within seven days and take legal action against offenders. Chief executive officers of two Dhaka city corporations, additional police commissioner (traffic) and two joint police commissioners (traffic) of Dhaka, deputy commissioners and officers-in-charge of 15 police stations of Dhaka were asked to comply with the HC directive. In addition, the HC also ordered the government to constitute a five-member high-powered committee to find out the 'leasers', make a list of their names and submit it to the court in 60 days time.
It is beyond our comprehension how could a capital city's footpaths be 'leased' out to hawkers and vendors?
Pedestrian footpaths are essential to reduce crash risk by separating vehicles and pedestrians and ensure safe walking as an alternative to motorized transport, and they are not constructed for accommodating hawkers and roving commodity sellers. Due to illegal occupying of our footpaths numbers of road accidents have not only increased, but pedestrians have increasingly turned into jay walking risking lives.
However, thousands of city dwellers have repeatedly complained that their sufferings knew no bound as they could not use footpaths as hawkers and other traders, illegal parking and construction materials encroached city's footpaths, many of which have been renovated with tiles recently.
Ranging from shops, makeshift kitchen markets, parked cars and motorcycles to waste dumps, and construction materials mostly occupy footpaths across the capital. And that's not all - a number of government agencies including Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited and Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited are also reportedly implementing development projects by occupying a number of footpaths in many areas.
It is an agonizing reality of today's Dhaka that hawkers or sellers cannot occupy footpaths without backing from political quarters or from the administration. The government must have the political will to set our footpaths free from illegal occupants.
Sadly, the political will is missing. Even more disturbing is that Dhaka's footpaths cannot be freed since there is a 'dark political economy' linked to encroachment of our footpaths. And in most cases encroachers have been reported to bribe law enforcement agencies and pay a regular amount of 'extortion fees' to local political leaders.
We draw immediate attention of the ruling party in this regard.
However, renovating footpaths by using tiles is not the only solution. Round-the-clock monitoring and planning are also required to keep Dhaka footpaths usable for pedestrians.
Now that the High Court has issued a clear directive to free our footpaths, we only expect prompt response from government authorities concerned.
We have a clear and strong position on footpaths. And footpaths should only be used for pedestrian walking.