The Tetultala playground, under ward 17 of Dhaka South City Corporation, has long been a small but valuable space for local children to play and for the neighbourhood to come together for social and community activities. The playground has served as a makeshift location for Eid prayers and funeral rites, as well as being a place for the community to exercise. Most importantly, it is an open space – an extremely rare commodity in densely populated Dhaka. 

In 2021,  the Kalabagan police erected a sign stating that a new police station would be built on the Tetultala playground. The police restricted the area with barbed-wire fencing on 31 January 2022. Some members of the Kalabagan Thana (police station) were seen routinely guarding the site. 

Local residents immediately mobilised to protest the police actions. They removed the sign and continued using the space. On 29 January 2022, locals formed a human chain demanding that the field be returned to the public. Protesters argue that the larger Kalabagan area does not have any playgrounds to serve as an alternative and the Tetultala playground is the only outdoor space for youth in the area. 

Residents of the neighbourhood sent an application to the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) / Friends of the Earth Bangladesh asking for legal support. BELA promptly sent two legal notices to related authorities on 6th February and 16th March 2022 and sent two letters under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2009, to the Ministries of Home and Land. In March 2022, DMP officials said the Kalabagan police station complex would be constructed soon and there was no scope to return the land and there would be no compromising with the demands of the local people. 

On 24 April 2022, Syeda Ratna, a local resident who had helped organise the movement to save the Tetultala  playground, and her 17 year old son were detained by police and taken to Kalabagan Police Station. Their only “crime” was that they were live-streaming the construction of a boundary wall designed to prevent the community from accessing Tetultala Playground. On 25 April 2022, BELA organised a group of eminent citizens and other civil society organisations to send a letter demanding justice. Ratna and her son were held for 13 hours in police custody and released only after stating that “they will not obstruct any government work in the future.”

BELA and other activists demanded:

  • The government withdrew the decision to construct the Kalabagan police station on Tetultala playground and that the space remained open for public use. –
  • A fair investigation into the detention of Syeda Ratna and her 17-year-old son and for those involved with the incident to be brought to justice
  • Security for Ratna’s family and other locals who had been demonstrating and protesting to protect the playground.

According to the Playground, Open Spaces, Parks and Water Bodies Conservation Act and a High Court judgment from 2014, the Deputy Commissioner’s office is to take action against any encroachment on open spaces or playgrounds. Furthermore, BELA highlighted that the Tetultala Playground was clearly defined as an open space in the Dhaka Detailed Area Plan (DAP).  

BELA Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan and other activists brought the case to the media’s attention and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal was urged them to consider finding an alternative site for construction to spare the playground. On 28 April 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for a stop to the construction and assured the public that no police station would be built on the Tetultala playground.

Thanks to a strong community movement, the media, and the support of BELA and its civil society partners, this campaign was a success. Attention now turns toward reclaiming more open spaces across the city that have been similarly encroached upon. The hope is to build from this experience and launch a city-wide movement for a greener, more livable, and more open Dhaka.

For more information contact:
Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury
Research Lawyer, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)