Role of State and Global Capital in the Transformation of Dhaka City
Dhaka enjoys maximum primacy in the urban systems in Bangladesh. As a result demand for land in Dhaka City for developmental purposes has assumed a critical status. Since liberation in 1971, the growth of private sector and its link with global capital have brought major changes in Dhaka’s land use pattern. These changes are manifested in unplanned and irregular expansion of commercial, industrial and real estate development on government owned lands. Quite often government agencies participate in these projects as promoters and even partners overshadowing their regulatory roles. They disregard planning norms and favour certain interest groups at the expense of the poor and underprivileged occupants..
In Bangladesh many agencies have ownership rights overlarge tracts of land in cities. In Dhaka City, for example, the Railway, Public Works Department, Dhaka University, and the Army are institutions which have been occupying large tracts of land since colonial rule. The post-partition era gave opportunity to many more agencies to acquire land, such as, the Water Development Board, the Inland Water Transport Corporation, the Army, Navy, Air Force, East Pakistan Rifles (now BDR), the Ministry of Telephone and Telegraph and other agencies. Each of these agencies have in the process become ‘de-
facto’ land owners and their behavior today is similar to the ‘Zamindars’ of the colonial
and pre-colonial eras as they dictate the ‘use’ or ‘misuse’ of these lands.
After liberation in 1971, the population of Dhaka city increased rapidly and the pressure on limited urban land increased manifold. The result was gross shortage of land for housing and for related uses for the migrant population. On the other hand, investment opportunities in the capitalist economic system opened avenues for use of land for commercial, industrial and real estate purposes in a big way. The present era of globalization and market-dictated economy has provided a new lease of opportunities to the government, semi-government and even para-state agencies to utilize their vacant and under-used lands for reaping profit.
As a natural corollary, since the1980s Dhaka city has witnessed major changes in land use which do not conform with the master plan of the city and sometimes even contradict the plan guidelines. There has also been a tremendous disparity in the way the administration has allocated land to meet shelter needs of the low-income groups. In fact, settlements on government land that was allotted to house lower grade employees and consequently became high density areas has been gradually cleared of such habitations. At the same time, eviction of slums and squatters settlements on government lands is a regular happening in Dhaka city. More recently, the government agencies and the army have formed partnership to transform these lands into commercial and elite residential
areas in alliance with local and foreign investors. The public service agencies have started justifying theses actions with the excuse of crunch in public resource and the need for public-private partnership which effectively leads to privatization.
The present paper proposes to examine the neoliberal anti-poor policies in Dhaka and analyze the land use pattern of the city highlighting recent changes in the use of public lands. Through case studies it will reveal how lands in prominent locations are being used for commercial purposes that go against public welfare and flout the City Master Plan as well. The paper argues that the State, in association with global capital, participates in so called development works defying their own codes and in the process causing grave humanitarian and environmental concerns. The paper suggests alternatives for better utilization of government lands in a more equitable way.