Today’s Rajshahi City: towards Brightness from Shadow

Through many events and by the efforts of many eminent personalities, the tiny township of Rampur Boalia turned into today’s Rajshahi City in the long passage of time. It has a long historical background. Hazrat Shah Makhdum (R.), the spiritual leader, came and settled down here in the sixteenth century. It was the first turning point of growth of this area.

Then the Maratha raids during the middle of eighteenth century led to the migration to this place of considerable number of population from Murshidabad, the other side of the river Padma. This migration contributed to the further growth of the township. By that time Rajshahi already developed as a centre of trade and commerce for silk and indigo, and the European traders, i.e. the Dutch followed by French and English established their trading links and commercial deports at this place.

The first estimated population of this township was around 20,000 in 1872 having an area around 10 kilometers. During the British colonial rule Rajshahi evolved as a centre of administration (divisional headquarter), education and trade and commerce. A 12-kilometer long embankment was constructed to protect the inhabitants from flood. The embankment along the river Padma was from Nabinagar in the west to Kazla in the east in 1855. The Sadar Hospital was established in 1865 and Rajshai College in 1873. The municipal administration was introduced in Rajshahi in 1876.

Apart from RajshahiCollegiateSchool and RajshahiCollege, a good number of educational institutions came into being in this city over time. Rajshahi University, now the second largest higher seat of learning in Bangladesh, was established in 1953. The erstwhile Rajshahi Engineering College later turned into Rajshahi University of Engineering & Technology (RUET). Considering all these famous educational institutions of this city, along with Rajshahi Medical College and many other distinguished schools and colleges, Rajshahi gained the reputation of the Educational City of Bangladesh.

As a divisional headquarter, Rajshahi is an administrative city having a huge agricultural hinterland at the northern area. It is more of a service providing city than an industrially productive one. It provides mostly education, healthcare, administrative and judicial facilities, rather than shopping and recreational opportunities.

The major expansion of Rajshahi city began only after the liberation of Bangladesh. After the construction of rail-road to the north, within a few years of time this city enlarged its area up to 40 square kilometers from 12 kilometers. In 1980 its population reached nearly 2 lacs. After Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna, Rajshahi is now the 4th largest city in Bangladesh having the population around 7 lacs and an area about 48 square kilometers.

Rajshahi became a Metropolitan City in 1987 comprising with 30 Wards. It has its own Mayor and Ward Commissioners for each Ward. Since then the city has been receiving increased amount of development budget from the Government of Bangladesh and revenues from the city dwellers for consuming water, electricity and other public utilities. We do not have exact data in hand about the yearly budgetary allocation and the sector-wise expenditure.

Whatever may be the fact, the visible reality marks a slow but remarkable pace of development in the infrastructural scenario of this city over the years 1990 to 2000 and 2001 to 2009. From 2010 up to now this city assumes a new look in terms of beautification of roads, drainage, buildings, parks, recreational centers, cleanliness and garbage disposal etc. All these primarily adhere to city planning and proper implementation of planning and policies.

Like any other city of Bangladesh, Rajshahi also acquired the present face following spontaneous and haphazard growth on the one hand and a willful attempt to chalk out and implement a Master Plan with the help of the Rajshahi Development Authority (RDA) on the other. It should be mentioned here that creating a better city not only depends on planning but also a better planning with a strong will to implement it by the concerned people.

Let us here mention few words about urban planning. It refers to those activities by which a metropolis systematically undertakes to control its spatial-functional pattern. The essential task of urban planning is to promote the most effective spatial arrangement of component parts of the metropolis that can be obtained within whatever financial limits the people can afford and will accept. The challenges that the planning authority faces are: (a) to redevelop blighted areas, (b) to make effective of commercial and growing areas, (c) to reduce property loses at time of redevelopment and (d) to reduce costs of tax payers at time of future expansion.

The major areas of planning process involve city beautification; transportation and safety and land-use pattern.

Rajshahi Town Development Authority (RTDA) was perhaps formed in 1976 taking these views of urban planning in mind. RTDA was renamed as Rajshahi Development Authority (RDA) later on. There had been efforts by the planning authority of Rajshahi to formulate a Master Plan. After working on previous plans Rajshahi Metropolitan Development Plan (RMDP) was undertaken by RDA in 2001, aiming its implementation in 20 years time in an area about 364 square kilometers.

So far planning is concerned RajshahiCity has an advantage. About 75% of its land is jointly owned by the sectors like agriculture, residential areas, roads and welfare organizations and educational institutions. In Rajshahi, approximately 11% of the land belongs to roads where in Dhaka it is only about 6%. The city is still relatively smaller having a relatively cheaper cost of living. All these leave the scope of making it a very green, clean and beautiful city.

In this context we can refer to the concept of “Garden City” coined by the English urbanist Ebenezer Howard, the first city planner in 1865. Howard came up with his city planning idea to replace the crowdedness, congestion of roads, problems of water, sanitation and lighting at that time in the towns of England. He planned to connect the “Garden City” with other cities and areas with main roads and railways. Then he suggested internal roads and rail-roads and a city centre covering 5/6 acres of land for public buildings and civic centre along with a green belt around the city.

Now the question arises why we are talking about all these things? It is because we are being tempted to dream of a model city as the English urbanist Howard dreamt of. We compare and conceive the possibility of Rajshahi City as a “Garden City” of Howard as we see it in 2013.

As has been mentioned before, Rajshahi offers its new look as the most beautiful city in Bangladesh now. The roads, the footpaths, the road dividers, the cross-road corners, the road lights, the newly constructed wide roads, the trees and gardens along the roads help largely to give it this new look. Garbage disposal and cleanliness, the construction of new drainage system, renovation of embankment, parks and recreational facilities, construction of super markets and business towers, maintenance of physical environment for health and hygiene also offer the conditions of beautification of the city. Anybody enters to the city after 4/5 years must appreciate these changes with wonder.

The beautification of this city marks its good governance and implementation of proper city planning and policies from the part of the city authority and it is Mr. Khairuzzaman Liton, the immediate City Mayor, who should be remembered for providing the leadership for bringing all these changes. It is he who has taken this city towards brightness from shadow. Though he remains no more Mayor, through his brilliant leadership and cooperation with newly elected Mayor Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul, we hope to witness even brighter Rajshahi in the future.