Professor and Chairman, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka
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This paper highlights the trends and characteristics of urban planning education, research and profession in Bangladesh during last 40 years, from 1971 to 2011. The period under the study is important as it corresponds to the life of Bangladesh as an independent nation. It is also important to note that the progress we have made in regard to urban planning in the country. During this period the size of the country’s population has become double and the urban population has increased seven folds. In 1971, the total urban population in the country had 5 million, which increased to 38 million in 2011 (BBS 2011). Small towns grew bigger and the bigger ones have become large towns, cities and megacities. There were only 108 towns and cities in Bangladesh in 1971, while that increased to about 532 in 2011. Such massive increase of urban population in the country and the expansion of urban areas have taken place largely in an unplanned manner (Islam 1999). The trends in urbanization show that the urban population in the country will increase further; and by 2030 nearly half of the population of the country will live in urban areas. The urban population size will also be massive; about 60 million. If considered the reality at present, and look back into the immediate past, a very grave scenario appears in the field of urban planning, and about nature and characteristics of our urbanization and cities in future. The economic role of cities, environmental conditions, livability in terms of health, education, housing, water and sanitation and recreation all depends on how we plan our urban areas. Who are responsible for planning? What is the level of their planning education commitment? These are some of the fundamental questions we have tried to discuss in this paper.
Urban Planning in the Past
The present urban planning practices in Bangladesh follow the legacy of the British and the Pakistani town planning traditions. Before the British period, the country was ruled by the Mugahls, when Dhaka was developed as the capital of Bengal. This paper does not aim at exploring the fact that when and how the human settlements emerged in the country. However, some of the ancient settlements in Bengal were planned settlements. Examples are Mahastahan, Moinamoti, Shitakot, Tamralipti, Shalban Bihar, Savar, and Sonargaon, etc. (Islam 1996). These settlements were grown centering on administrative, business, military and religious activities. This paper however concentrates on urban planning practices in Bangladesh since 1971.
In Bangladesh, rural traditions are more prominent than urban traditions. Scholarly writings are available more on rural areas than on urban. Urbanization in the country is a phenomenon of the post independent period. However, the way the country’s urbanization and urban areas are growing; its planning practices have not grown matching with urban growth. Those who are living in cities, their souls are tied with rural areas. Most of the urban people prefer to be identified with rural identities. It seems that cities and towns are their workplaces and the rural areas are their addresses of existence. The tradition of arranging cities and towns as the citizen’s ultimate destination has not yet been the tradition of the people. Under this backdrop, an attempt has been made to focus on the status of planning education, research and professional practices in Bangladesh.
Institutional Framework for Urban Planning
The process of building an institutional framework for urban planning in Bangladesh was started after the partition of India in 1947. The new Government of the then Pakistan created a Planning Department and structured it like the Department of Architecture, Communication and Irrigation. The Department resumed its activities in 1947 and formed a Committee under the leadership of Mr. Hamidul Haque Chowdhury. With the cooperation of Calcutta Improvement Trust, the Committee prepared a framework for planned growth of Dhaka within a shortest possible time. The present spatial structure of Dhaka was in fact created through this Committee. The Committee marked the major roads, railway line, administrative and industrial areas, diplomatic zone, commercial and residential areas. This basic structure still dictates Dhaka City’s spatial growth.
Subsequently, in order to undertake detailed planning and facilitate plan implementation of these areas, Town Improvement Act 1953 was prepared. Under this Act and on the recommendations of the Committee a number of important institutions has been created in the then East Pakistan. In 1956, Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) was established. And then in 1959 and 1961 respectively were created Chittagong Development Authority and Khulna Development Authority. Soon after the creation of these institutions, they all resumed responsibilities and started planning and development activities of their respective cities. However, all these institutions were created to function at the local levels for individual cities, leaving the whole country in a planning gap.
In the 1960s, urban population in the country started to grow at an accelerated rate. Particularly the population inter-change between Pakistan and India during the post partition period helped cities to grow faster, as those who moved from India to the then East Pakistan resettled mainly in towns and cities. To help refuges settled, infrastructure development and to look after urban development of the whole country, five institutions were created under the Ministry of Public Works. These are: Public Works Department (PWD), Urban Development Directorate (UDD), Housing and Settlements Directorate (HSD), Department of Architecture and Housing and Building research Institute (HBRI). Beside these, there were some other institutions created under different Ministries also important for urban development such as Department of Public Health Engineering DPHE), Roads and Highways Department (RHD), Power Development Board (PDB), Survey of Bangladesh (SoB) and the Directorate of Land Records and Surveys (DLRS). Among these institutions, only UDD is the sole responsible for looking after urban areas of Bangladesh. Others are equally responsible for both rural and urban areas.
During the post independent Bangladesh, Space Research and Remote sensing Organization (SPARSO) and Department of Environment (DOE) was created at National level and Rajshahi Town Development Authority (RTDA) was created al local level. Especially, the Physical Planning Division of the National Planning Commission plays important role in the development of urbanization and urban areas.
Legal Framework for Urban Planning
The 1953 Town Improvement Act is the main basis for urban Planning in Bangladesh. This Act provides legislative backing to DIT / RAJUK and other city development authorities and Municipalities’ operation. The Act has gone through several amendments to make it up to date, and still it demand further revision (Note: Drafts of new planning acts were prepared in 1980s and 1990s but were never enacted). Apart from TIA, there is another legal instrument called East Bengal Building Construction Act 1952, which controls the construction of buildings in towns and cities. There was an attempt to revise this Act in 1990, and added a few environmental control guide line to this Act. However, new Imarat Nirman Bidhimala (Building Code), which is comprehensive and more realistic, may replace this law. In 1997 a Paurashava Ordinance was created, and amended in 2009, which gives all the Paurashavas in the country a power to prepare Master Plans for their respective Towns and cities. Apart from Master Plan, This Ordinance gives Paurashava a power to undertake development activities and impose and collect tax on the citizen living within the Paurashava area.
Land is the most precious resource in Bangladesh perhaps due to very high population density in the country. Proper control and rationale use of land in Bangladesh have not been possible due to weak rules and regulations. East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1050, article 83, provides an opportunity to use land as they wish. Government can Acquire or hold control of any land in the country on the basis of an Ordinance promulgated in 1982 (Acquisition and Requisition of Immovable Property Ordinance 1982). This Ordinance may reduce the right of the people to some extent. On the basis of recommendations of the report of the Land Reform Committee of 1982 provides facilities of ownership, holdings and transfer, but not included rules for land use control. Environment Conservation Act 1995 can arrest some of the pollution activities and can conserve environment.
State of Urban Planning in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, general understanding of urban planning is the preparation of Master Plan for cities or towns. Common people are also familiar with this concept. TIA of 1953 has facilitated this concept particularly for undertaking master planning for large cities. However, the Plan was prepared in Bangladesh region much before this Act was promulgated. British town planners Sir Patick Gaddes prepared a plan for Dhaka in 1917. The Plan was prepared in a Master Plan style which was never implemented (Jahan 1990, Mohaimen 1990).
In 1950s, in order to shape Dhaka suitable for a provincial Capital, a British planning team undertook a project and produced a Master Plan in 1959 for next 20 years. The Plan has been adapted and started implementing gradually. Dhaka Improvement Trust took the challenge of organizing Dhaka with its 220 square miles area. The plan included land uses inter alia for residential, commercial, administrative, industrial and open spaces. The target population was only 450,000. In 1971, Dhaka turned into a national Capital of Bangladesh from a provincial capital of East Pakistan. Earlier projection of population has become useless with the onslaught of Dhaka ward population after 1971 (Shamsuddin 1990). The growth of population and spatial reshaping of Dhaka during the post independent period made the first ever Master Plan for Dhaka a useless document. On the other hand, the country also could not take a fresh initiative in the 1970s to prepare a plan for Dhaka, the capital of a new nation. Thus, Dhaka gradually started sinking into the sea of problems (Islam 2005).
However, a fresh initiative was taken in the 1980s by the Planning Commission of Bangladesh to prepare a visionary Plan for the Capital Dhaka. Shank Land Cox and Partnership, a British Town Planning organization was given the responsibility to prepare a strategic plan for Dhaka metropolitan area. Due to reason unknown this plan failed to get approval by the Government. In the mean time, Dhaka was growing rapidly without planning.
After failure of the efforts in the early 1980s to prepare a Plan for Dhaka, it took about a decade to initiate a fresh attempt. It was 1990s, when the Authority became successful in initiating a New Plan. In the mean time, fundamental changes were marked in the philosophy and methodology of Plan preparation. Statutory Master Planning concept has become out of fashion and was replaced by process planning, which popularly had known as Strategic Plan or Structure Plan. In the contemporary thinking, these plans were not be prepared by individual planners or a planning team; rather these plans are to be prepared by the planners with the participation of the stakeholders directly or indirectly. Small or the local areas’ plans are to be prepared with direct participation of the local people. The plans will ultimately take shapes with realistic thinking of the people of the locality. The role of Planners is to give shapes to the plans on the basis of needs and wishes of the people.
Using this new thinking, two tiers of a three-tier Plan for Dhaka Metropolitan Development Planning region (area 1528 sq km) was completed in 1995. The third tier was left for RAJUK two prepare local area or Detailed Area Plan (DAP) immediately after the approval of the first two tiers. The first two tiers, Structure Plan and Urban Area Plan were approved by the Government in 1997. However, RAJUK could not make an attempt to prepare Detailed Area Plans with their own capacity and thus contracted out to prepare DAP which was completed and got approved in 2010. In the mean time, about 40 years have passed, Dhaka grew without a Plan. During this period, Dhaka’s growth was the highest in its history of 400 years as a Capital City.
Similar fate or even worst experiences had to encounter by Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi cities. The first Master Plan for Chittagong City was prepared in 1961, and that was prepared for Khulna in 1966. Both Chittagong and Khulna utilized full 20 years before a new Structure plan was prepared. The Chittagong Metropolitan Master Plan (Structure Plan and Urban Area Plan) was prepared a British Consultants with technical support from UNDP/UNCHS and Government of Bangladesh. The Plan was approved by the Government in 1999. Second Khulna Master Plan was prepared in 2000, for the first time in Bangladesh by local Consultants. This was a four tier Plan, a unique exercise in the history of urban planning in Bangladesh. Following Khulna, a new Plan has been prepared for Rajshahi, also by the local Consultants. This has now become a trend that Bangladeshi planners are preparing City Plans for their own cities.
It shows from the above that large cities in the country are planned and managed partially by their respective development authorities. Outside the large cities, the responsibility of planning and planned management rest with the Municipalities. However, the Municipalities are weak in terms of their technical capabilities and manpower resources for undertaking planning exercises. Under this circumstances two of the national level organizations, UDD and LGED have come forward to help prepare city plans.
Urban Development Directorate
Urban Development Directorate (UDD) was established in 1965, with an aim of assisting the Government in formulating policies in urbanization and preparation of Master plans for towns and cities where development authorities did not exist. Its other responsibilities are conducting research on urban issues and problems, undertaking physical planning for various regions in the country, conducting seminars and workshops for disseminating knowledge on urbanization and urban development and arranging training programme for the people working in urban development (Islam and Ahmed 2000). With these gigantic responsibilities, UDD’s initial efforts were bright and challenging. However, the organization’s image and glory have gradually faded due to lack of visionary leadership and trained planners in it (Rahman 2008). Among its achievements, preparation of a National Report on Human settlements for Habitat II in 1996 is quite successful. Between 1984 and 1991, UDD initiated a massive plan preparation project for all Uazila and District Towns throughout the country. Whatever may be the quality, UDD has successfully completed plans for 50 District Towns and 392 Upazila Towns (Islam and Ahmed 2000). None of these plans were implemented. Among its other important attempts, preparation of a framework for physical Planning throughout the country, with assistance of UNDP/UBCH is mentionable. Under this programme, between 1978 and 1982, UDD prepared landuse plans for five District towns (Bogra, Mymensingh, Comilla, Jessore and Barisal) n the first phse of the project; while in the second phase, during 1982 -85, the same has been prepared for other five districts (Narsingdi, sylhet, Rangpur, Rajbari and Jhineidha). These plans are also remained dormant.
In recent years, UDD is trying to come back in the profession. Within last few years, It has completed Master Plan of three important Towns: Barisal, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar including sea beach up to Teknaf. These plans have already been approved. UDD is now looking after the plan preparation of Kuakata resort town, Mynesingh District town.
Local Government Engineering Department
Over the last one decade, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) has taken over the urban areas and has become an important actor being directly involved in urban development activities in the country. LGED started its activities in urban areas initially by providing basic services to the poor in cities and towns, such as water supply, sanitation and improvement of drainage system. The second phase of its activities was related to the improvement urban governance. The objective of these activities, under UGIIP financed by the Asian Development Bank, was to improve the quality services in the towns and cities through good governance. At the third stage, LGED has become involved making urban development policies and Plans.
At present LGED is monitoring the preparation of 23 District Town and 223 Upazila town plans. In fact, LGED is helping Municipalities in getting a Plan for their future development activities. All these plans are being prepared by Consultants with the direct cooperation of Municipalities, while LGED is providing technical support in monitoring the plan preparation activities. Recently, LGED has undertaken two projects to prepare Master Plans for Comilla and Rangpur City Corporations. It was also involved in the preparation of a National Urban Sector Policy.
The LGED experience of urban planning in Bangladesh is yet to be seen, as none of these plans are tested in the field. However, these plans are being prepared without a common guideline such as a National Planning Act or under the guidance of National Urbanization Policy. Both these instruments are absent in the country. Preliminary observations show that the Plans are too technical and short sighted. Financial allocation for plan preparation was also too low; thus the consultants did not take the assignment seriously.
Planning Education and Research
Education: There are five public universities in the country which offer degrees in urban and regional planning. The universities are BUET, Khulna University, Jahangirnagar University, Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology and Pabna University. The oldest institution is, BUET which played a pioneering role in introducing planning education in Bangladesh.
In 1962, a Department Physical Planning was established in BUET to offer Post Graduate degree (Master of Physical Planning) under the Faculty of Architecture and Planning. In 1976, the Department was renamed as the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (Rahman 2008). Khulna University initiated a four year undergraduate programme in Bachelor of Urban and Rural Planning in 1991. Following Khulna University, BUET (along with its Masters programme) and Jahangirnagar University introduced Under Graduate programme in Urban and Regional Planning respectively in 1996 and in 1998. The Department of Geography and Environment in Dhaka, Rajshahi, Jahangirnagar and Chittagong Universities offer several courses on urban and regional planning at Masters level, and offer M. Phil and Ph D Degrees. Besides, all the Geography and Environment Department under National University offer at least one course at Masters level on Urban Planning.
Apart from the above mentioned five public Universities, two private universities received UGC permission to start academic programme at undergraduate level and one of them (Asia Pacific University) has already started the programme.
The number of Planning Graduates and Masters from all these universities hardly exceeded 1000 to date. Those who earned Planning degrees from Universities abroad is not more 25 altogether. Considering the needs of Planners in the country this number seems to too small. It is difficult to say how many planners are needed for Bangladesh to ensure its planned development. A rudimentary estimate shows that at least 4000 planners will be required for its urban areas only, if every 10,000 people need one urban planner.
Research: It is difficult to separate research on urban planning from those on general urban issues. Almost all the issues in urban areas have its implications on planning. Research on urbanization and urban issues in Bangladesh was started as early as in the 1950s. At the university level, Departments of Geography, Sociology, Urban and Regional Planning, Engineering and Architecture are pioneer in urban research in Bangladesh. Before 1971, urban research was not visible outside the university. However, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and National Institute for Local Governments have carried out some research on selected urban issues.
After independence, Centre for Urban Studies (CUS) played a pioneering role in urban research in Bangladesh. In fact, studies on urbanization and urban research with the initiative of CUS and with the leadership of Professor Nazrul Islam have established a field of research in the country, with got due recognition from home and abroad. In fact CUS is the only organization in Bangladesh with an exclusive research interest in urban issues. Its activities include research, seminars, conferences, training, advocacy, maintenance a reference library and data bank, consultancy and publications. CUS, a 42 year old think tank conducted more than 60 researches and published about 20 books and monographs on urban and regional planning and development issues. The Centres main focus of research interests is on the urban poor, slums and squatters, low income housing etc. The Centre organizes seminars and conferences to disseminate findings of its research and facilitate others to speak. CUS publishes a Bulletin on Urbanization and Development twice a year.
Urban Studies Programme in the Department of Geography and Environment, at Dhaka University was a special research and publication programme apart from the Department’s norma urban research activities, started in 1992 and continued until 1996. The programme conducted a number research and published at least seven books under the leadership of Professor Nazrul Islam. The programme was a part of Global Urban Research Initiative (GURI), a unique project supported by the Ford foundation during 1991-97 (Islam 2000). The Programme was coordinated by the Centre for Urban and Community Studies of the University of Toronto. CUS played a role of a link organization.
Bangladesh Urban Research Forum (BURF) was formally launched in May 2011through a seminar held at Khulna University with the aim of creating a common platform and a network for sharing and disseminating knowledge among researchers, academia and experts dealing with urban issues. Since the Forum was formally launched it published booklet based on the deliberations made in the first seminar in Khulna and convened a few meetings of the executives in Dhaka and then the Forum kept silent.
Bangladesh Urban Forum is a newly established network of organizations and institution working in the field of urbanization and urban development and planning. The Forum convent its first ever Conference during 5-7 December 2011 in Dhaka. Apart from papers presentation sessions, the Forum had exhibitions, youth forum, cultural forum and a number of plenary. At the Concluding Session the Forum managed to publish a National Declaration identifying major problems and challenges that face Bangladesh in its urban areas (BUF 2012). The Forum is led by the Government of Bangladesh.
There are other research organizations such as BIDS, PPRC, CPD, BUP, and some others which conduct research on urban issues occasionally. Recently, PPRC has come forward with a focus on urban research and has published a couple of books to its credit. PPRC’s urban wing is called BURI (Bangladesh Urban Institute).
Professionalism in Urban Planning
In Bangladesh, Professionalism in Urban Planning has not yet evolved fully. However, the basic three conditions essential for development of professionalism, such as teaching urban planning at the university level, development of professional organizations and dissemination of ideas and views through professional journals, do exist in the country. Urban Planning as a discipline is taught in five public and two private universities at undergraduate level and four public universities at post graduate level. There is a 40 year old professional organization in the country namely the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) with nearly 900 members. BIP also publishes a professional journal to disseminate planner’s views and ideas. Beside BIP, there are other organizations involved in research in the field of urbanization, urban and regional planning and development, such as the Centre for Urban Studies (CUS). This 42 year old research organization has conducted more than 60 researches apart from other professional activities through its members and staff.
There are over 1000 planners in the country of which only about 340 are working as professional urban and regional planners. Of them, about a 100 are working at the municipalities taking a designation as Urban Planner. Less than 40 planners are working at the development authorities, including RAJUK. Being a development authority of Dhaka, a city with more than 14 million people, could not employ more than 20 Urban Planners. Only about 50 planners are engaged in LGED and Urban Development Directorate (UDD), two specialized public institution responsible for guiding and development of built environment. The rest of the planners are working with real estate developers and NGOs. Those who are involved in teaching Urban and Regional Planning at university level will not be exceeding 80. It is, however, difficult to say as to how many of them are real professional planners (who actually planned cities, towns or villages). Many of them are involved in plan evaluation, monitoring and development control.
The planning profession in Bangladesh is suffering from some fundamental problems. These problems are the major barriers in flourishing the professional field and activities. The quality of planning activity also suffers due to these problems. The major problems are listed below:
These are a few reasons as to why professionalism in urban planning is not being developed. Rather, the planners are struggling for their existence even where they were appointed as professional planners. The role that is being played by BIP and CUS is not enough to fight such trend. They will have to come up with serious attempts
From the above discussions basically three important issues can be identified. These are briefly: a) the nature of institutional and legal basis of urban and regional planning in the country, the nature of present practice of urban planning and the state of planning education, research and professionalism. The discussions and analysis are neither adequate nor comprehensive. However, the attempt in this paper was to raise the issue and to identify the problems to focus on.
The process of setting goals, developing strategies, and outlining the tasks and schedules to accomplish the goals for achieving planned urban growth is not well defined and need oriented. Secondly the basic management function involving formulation of plans to achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources is not being done professionally. The planning process that (1) identifies the goals or objectives to be achieved, (2) formulates strategies to achieve them, (3) arranges or creates the means required, and (4) implements, directs, and monitors all steps in their proper sequences are suffering seriously from coherent activities. Planning is about managing and developing urban and rural areas in order to protect and best serve present and future generations; an idea that is not contained in a policy as yet. An Urban sector national policy has been drafted, but not yet on the surface to implement.
To achieve planned urbanization and urban growth, the politician, decision makers and the planners should think problems spatially and then make a knowledge based decision for solution. This is an area where expansion of quality education and research can be emphasized. Then comes legal and institutional support, which Bangladesh perhaps has a proper setup but in terms of institutional support. Sometimes, institutional barrier are more visible than the support. One of the important problems in undertaking planning exercise is lack of data base and information system. The researchers and academia face problems in generating data; and most of their resources are spent in on data collection rather than in planning. Professionalism in planning can be achieved if all these things work together along with their commitments.
Ahmed, S. and Sawpan, MSH (2009) “People’s Participation in the Physical Planning Activities: A Case Study of Khulna Development Authority”, Journal of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, Vol. 2. December
BUF (2012) Bangladesh’s Urban Future: Making Cities and Towns Work for All, Report of the First Bangladesh Urban Forum, 5-7 December, 2011
Khan, S.D. (1972) “Evolution of Municipalities in Bangladesh: in Sajjad Hussain (ed.), Urban Affairs, Dhaka: Local Government Institute. p.x1
JAHAN, S. (1990) “Urban Planning in Bangladesh: a Review” in Nazrul Islam (ed.) Urban Research in Bangladesh, Dhaka: Centre for Urban Studies (CUS).
Mohaimen, A. (1990) Dhaka Master Plan Report of 1917 by Patrick Geddes (Bangla translated version with an Introduction) Dhaka: Dhaka City Museum.
Islam, N. (2005) Dhaka Now, Dhaka: Bangladesh Geographical Society, p. 64
Islam, N. (1999) “Urban Planning in Bangladesh: an Overview”, Keynote Speech delivered at a Training Workshop on Planning, at the Planning and Development Academy, Dhaka: on 8 December.
Islam, N. (1994) “Urban Research in Bangladesh since the 1960s and an Agenda for the 1990s”, in Islam, N. (ed.) Urban Research in Bangladesh, Dhaka: Centre for Urban Studies.
Islam, N. (2000) Introduction: “Asian Perspectives on Urban Governance”, in Islam, N. (ed.) Urban Governance in Asia:Sub-Regional and City Perspectives, Dhaka: Centre for Urban Studies and Pathak Samabesh.
Rahman. G. (2008) Town Planning and the Political Culture of Planning in Bangladesh, Dhaka: AH Development Publishing House.
An earlier version of this paper was presented on 6 December 2011 in the session on Planning and Research in the Bangladesh Urban Forum, held during 5-7 December 2011.
 This Plan was initiated by the Planning Commission, Ministry of Planning, but implementing agency RAJUK, which belongs to the Ministry of Housing and Public Works. There is rumor that due to inter-ministrial clash, Ministry of Housing and Public Works did not own this Plan.
 The first tier was Urban Strategy, the second one was Structure Plan, the third tier was called Master Plan, which was equivalent to Dhaka’s Urban Area Plan and the fourth was Detailed Area Plan. The Fourth Tier was prepared as an example for selected areas only.
 The National Urban Sector Policy has been prepared and finalized by Sub Committee created by National Committee for Urban Local Governments (CULG). The Convener of 16 members Sub Committee was Professor Nazrul Islam, Chairman CUS. At least four members were taken from LRGED. The policy is now at the final stage, though not yet adapted by the Government.
 Considering the requirement of planners in the country the then Chairman of the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh Professor Nazrul islam created an opportunity to start planning education in the three newly established Universities, KUET, CHUET (in 2009) and Pabna University (in 2010).
 CUS was established by the initiative of Professor Nazrul Islam in the Department of Geography, University of Dhaka in May 1972. Since 1998 it was been operating fully independently outside an University campus. It is currently located in Dhanmondi, Dhaka