The city now looks like a huge park and is setting an example on how to manage a cleaner and greener metropolitan
The surprisingly abundant presence of Krishnachura and Jarul flowers on roadsides throughout Rajshahi is a joy and wonder to any visitor.
The city itself gives off the look of a huge park, and a metropolitan with such a green heart is a rare sight in Bangladesh. Though a rare pleasure for visitors, the dwellers of Rajshahi are used to the sight of reddish-purple bloom during the months of summer for more than a decade.
The greenery is the ultimate result of "Zero Soil" campaign, implemented by the Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC), and launched in 2004 to counter the dust blown from nearby Padma River during dry season.
"We had been trying to cover all open city spaces with different types of trees and grasses, so that the dust can be absorbed by the flora," said Md Ashraful Haque, chief engineer of the city.
Besides the RCC's own tree plantation programme, it has also been distributing 500 saplings of different trees – from fruits to flowers – to schools and colleges so that the students can plant them to expand the greenery.
Additionally, the authorities had covered the 35-kilometre-long footpaths with red and black tiles. The width of the footpath varies from 8-24 feet.
The city's whole-hearted efforts to preserve the environment was internationally recognised in 2016 when Rajshahi was declared the top pollution controller by the United Nations health agency for reducing dangerous air particulate matter.
The greenery is but a part of the initiative to modernise the northern divisional city. The RCC is also quite adept at managing Rajshahi's transportation, waste and sewerage systems, making life comfortable for the dwellers.
Different mayors, one goal
Three mayors from two different political parties (Awami League and BNP), have helmed the Rajshahi City Corporation since 2004, but every mayor picked up on the initiatives of their predecessors.
The green initiative was launched by first elected RCC mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu of the BNP, who ran the office for 15 years. Minu's work is being continued by incumbent Mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton.
"Look, we are all from Rajshahi. We are working for the betterment of this city, not to implement our own political agenda. Everyone concerned at the RCC – from cleaners to the mayor – works to uphold the livability and cleanliness of Rajshahi city," Minu said.
Littering almost absent
The RCC excels at garbage and waste management, making Rajshahi one of the cleanest cities in Bangladesh. Due to the city corporation's efforts since 1990, littering on streets is almost absent.
"Around 2,000 cleaners, under direct supervision of 30 ward councillors and me, collect almost 200 tonnes of garbage each day from the city, and dump it to a lone dumping ground at Noadapara," Mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton told The Business Standard.
Giving more details, Chief Engineer Ashraful Haque, who has been working for the RCC for the past 30 years, said: "The city corporation is actually following a master plan, introduced by the Rajshahi Development Authority back in 2004.
"The RCC functions according to the guidelines set in the master plan."
No water logging issues
Waterlogging during monsoon or even after a heavy downpour is a common issue in most big cities in Bangladesh, such as Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj and Gazipur.
However, waterlogging is a thing of the past for around one million city dwellers of Rajshahi, as rainwater drains from the streets within half an hour. The 350-kilometre-long drainage system, set up in three different layers, releases the rainwater to 10 nearby canals.
Speaking with a smile, RCC Chief Engineer Ashraful Haque said: "The 162km long primary drainage system, with a width of 3-7 feet, initially drains the water to a 35km long secondary drainage system that has a width of 4-25 feet.
"From there, the accumulated water leaves the city by a 153km long drainage system comprised of 10 large drains. For this, we are following our own Drainage System Master Plan created in 1992."
Less noise pollution
Rajshahi, a divisional city, is the centre of northern region that includes districts such as Naogaon, Chapainawabganj, Natore, Bogura, Pabna and Joypurhat. Economy of these districts is primarily run by agricultural activities.
However, Rajshahi is renowned for having one of the country's largest public universities – Rajshahi University – and Rajshahi Medical College Hospital. It is estimated that out of its 1 million residents, around 200,000 are students, who are not involved in any economic activity.
For transportation, the city is hugely dependent on its existing 30,000 battery-run auto-rickshaws and privately owned motorbikes, instead of buses.
Operation of buses and trucks are limited to only one road, passing near the central railway station towards Chapainawabganj. The road acts as a bypass route through the city.
This bypass system cuts down noise pollution, which is faced by the residents of many other large cities. There is however a downside, as the sheer number of battery-run auto-rickshaws are prone to clogging up the city roads, much to the irritation of the citizens.
"These auto-rickshaws are good for moving quickly from one place to another, and they are cheaper than pedal rickshaws too. But their number has grown to the point that these rickshaws are making Rajshahi too crowded," said a resident named Mohammad Abdullah.
To address this issue, the present mayor has decided to limit the number of such vehicles to 15,000 on the streets a day, by marking them in two different colours – maroon and green.
Following RCC's success of managing the 93 square kilometre city, the authorities are planning to expand Rajshahi to 367 square kilometres soon.
Speaking to this correspondent, local Member of Parliament (MP) Fazle Hossain Badsha expressed concerns about properly managing the city in the future.
"One of the major factors in properly managing a city is its population and economic activities. The population density of Rajshahi is around 10,000 per square kilometre, while in Narayanganj City Corporation the density is around 27,000 for the almost same space," Badsha said.
"When the city's economy becomes focused on industries, the population will increase. Therefore, sectors such as the transportation system will be burdened," he added.
Around 200,000 people in the city are presently engaged in economic activities. Of them, around 62% have wage-employment and the rest 38% belong to the informal sector.
Among them, around 68,000 people are engaged in the manufacturing sector, such as food processing, textile, auto-rice mills and poultry feed, according to Economic Census 2013.
Currently, city authorities are planning to expand the industries in Rajshahi to cut unemployment rate.
Regarding the concerns of lawmaker Fazle Hossain Badsha, the mayor said that the RCC will follow the master plan taken by the Rajshahi Development Authority, so that the newly expanded areas would be managed similarly.
The master plan incorporates different issues, such as proper land use plans for industrial areas, residential zones, playground and parks. Currently, the city has at least five parks covering more than 70 acres of land.
Additionally, the city authorities have been managing one-fourth of about 200 ponds inside the metropolitan area to keep the hot weather of this northern district in check.