Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dhaka can't be allowed to go on this way, Mayor Khokon tells citizen journalists

  • Masum Billah,
    Published: 2017-02-17 02:38:26 BdST


Citizen journalists and journalism students fired a volley of questions on civil issues like chaos in public transports, traffic congestions, pollution and rising house rents. And the mayor answered them with a smiling face, giving hopes of building Dhaka as a modern city.

The sixth anniversary celebrations of, the pioneer blog for citizen journalists in Bangladesh, brought the mayor face-to-face with them in a rare interaction on Thursday.

"The city can't go on in the way it is going on now," Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon said.

The daylong programme at Dhanmondi's Daffodil International University was titled 'Citizen Journalists Come to Face the Mayor'.

Along with the citizen journalists, students of the university's journalism department pinned the mayor down with questions during the event.

Fielding a question on traffic jam and air pollution, Sayeed Khokon blamed errant bus drivers. He said buses are occupying all three lanes of Dhaka streets, stopping the other vehicles, even ambulances carrying ailing patients, from passing.

"But I will never spare the wrongdoers, however powerful they are. Thugs have no party. They change party when power shifts," Khokon, a leader of the ruling Awami League, said.

Besides the problems, engaging the mayor more with the people and raising public awareness were emphasised during the programme.

When a blogger drew his attention to high auto-rickshaw fare and hassles to get transports, Khokon said the solution to the auto-rickshaw problem was beyond the 'very limited' power and purview of the city corporation.

"We will discuss the problem with BRTA and may solve it to some extent with their workforce," he added.

The mayor emphasised change in the people's mindset along with stringent law enforcement.

"These problems won't go away in a day. But we want to get down to work," he said.

He had an identical answer to a question on high house rents. "But if you file a complaint with the house rent regulatory authorities, I can recommend action," he added.

Asked about the city corporation's steps to hear the citizens' problems, Mayor Khokon said the city corporation has been organising ward-level meetings between the people and their representatives in the local government.

He also said he attends ABC Radio's programme 'Hello Mayor' at 8am every Monday to listen to the problems from the citizens.

A citizen journalist wanted to know about the measures on raising garbage management awareness.

The mayor said the city corporation is using a host of methods, including TV advertisements.

He urged all to drop the garbage at dustbins and after 7pm. "It becomes difficult for the city corporation workers to carry away the garbage if those are not dropped at a specific place and at a specific time," he said.

In his words, every citizen will have to think and act like a mayor.

"Otherwise it will be difficult to end the problems of 10 million people. You can do this thing (help change the people's mindset) through your writings," he told the citizen journalists.

He said around 250 of the 5,700 dustbins installed in Dhaka South have been stolen or destroyed, and promised that those will be re-installed soon.

A student of the university asked him about what the city corporation is doing to stop child labour in carrying garbage.

"It is restricted by law. We will take steps to stop the children from doing this work," Khokon said.

Facing another student's query on single people's' struggle to rent house, the mayor said, "It's right that it has become difficult for the bachelors to rent house after the terror attack on Holey Artisan. All the bachelors and students have come under watch.

"But now it's the duty of the student institutions to arrange their housing," he said.

On being asked about rehabilitating the recently evicted hawkers in Gulistan and Motijheel areas, the city authority chief said: "If they fail to get any other job, we will send them abroad through government's credit facility if necessary, or recruit them in development work; but we will not allow them to grab the footpaths and streets."

He said five holiday markets for hawkers have been set up in the capital. "We are setting up evening markets along with more holiday ones," he said.

Speaking about the deterrents against air pollution, the mayor claimed Dhaka's air is 'far less' polluted than those of Mexico City or New Delhi.

"But the problem is very much evident here because of the development works and keeping construction materials here and there," he claimed.

Khokon said even though the task to prevent air pollution was 'actually' of the Department of Environment, the city corporation regularly sprays water on the streets to control dusts.

The city corporation is setting up public toilets with modern facilities like those for breastfeeding mothers and physically challenged persons. "We are taking Tk 5-10 for the services to maintain the toilets," he added.

Chief Information Commissioner Golam Rahman told the event it is impossible for the mayor and the government alone to solve the civic issues without sensitising the people about those.

He advised the citizens to take help of the Right to Information Act to know about the facilities available for them.

Speaking about citizen journalism, he said, "It is an extension of journalism. There had been limited options to send letters and columns to newspapers earlier. But now the expansion of technology has made it very easy to circulate write-ups to millions of people."

Daffodil University Trustee Board Chairman Md Sabur Khan suggested inclusion of private sector to solve issues related to parking, garbage and public toilets. "This will also help new entrepreneurs emerge," he added. Editor poet Mohammad Nurul Huda hailed the citizen journalism initiative.

"The citizen journalists do not bring up only urban issues; they are aware of news from Teknaf to Tentulia. Those may not always get covered by the mainstream media," he said.

"And citizen journalists can also do this from abroad. That's why we are calling it citizen journalism, not civil journalism," he added. Editor Ireen Sultana and the university's journalism department student Rashedul Islam Ratul moderated the programme.

Vice-Chancellor Yousuf Mahbubul Islam and journalism department Chairman Selim Ahmed also delivered speech at the programme.