In January 2023, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) began rebuilding the traffic divider by cutting down trees on Sat Masjid Road in Dhanmondi. The traffic divider on Sat Masjid Road contained over 650 trees under the area jurisdiction of DSCC. About 600 of these trees were brutally felled in the dark of night. This has happened under a so-called “beautification” project without local consultation and in the face of mounting community and citizen protests.
Dhanmondi has always been an important part of the Dhaka. Renowned for being a comparatively green oasis in a concrete jungle starving for foliage, clean air, and refuge from pollution. The 2.6 km stretch of Satmasjid Road is a significant road in the capital through a busy residential and commercial district. To the rickshaw pullers and pedestrians that ply this road every day, the trees were their only protectors from the scorching sun.
In response to the destruction, the residents of Dhanmondi mobilised, holding night protests and daily human chains to protect what trees remained. Despite the public demonstrations, DSCC continued to forge ahead with the project.
According to Dhaka South City Corporation authorities, widening the road dividers was only possible by cutting the trees, and instead, flowering bushes would be planted in their place. This highlights a contradiction between the authority and the residents regarding the concept of “beauty” and “development.”
On May 8, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) organised a press conference, following which a delegation of nearly 70 activists and media marched on Nagar Bhaban (City Hall) to the Mayor’s office to hand him a letter detailing our demands. He was predictably absent.
May 21, BELA and civil society mobilised again, this time marching towards the Dhaka South City Corporation headquarters, calling on Mayor Taposh to cease the destruction of trees on Sat Mashjid Road and revegetate the area that has been felled with native species. The peaceful protest was met with a police barricade, and Mayor Taposh was again absent.
Mayor Taposh has since spoken to reporters and apologised that his development agenda had “hurt people’s feelings.” This was followed by reports of him making threatening remarks about civil society members participating in the demonstrations, including saying they would be thrown in the black waters of the Buriganga river.
BELA has condemned Mayor Taposh’s comments. Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive of BELA told The Daily Star, “We denounce such unthoughtful, insensitive, profit-seeking, and short-sighted development. This is destruction and not development.” She has also urged the Mayor to come to the field and see for himself.
BELA and the Dhanmondi community have pledged to continue the struggle until all trees on Sat Mashjid Road are protected.