Mohsin Ali came to Dhaka from Jessore with his wife and a son (9) for a brief holiday. On Thursday, they went to visit Hatirjheel near the Sonargaon Hotel in the heart of the city - hoping to soothe their heart and mind with serene beauty of the lake.
But their hopes have been dashed. "I wouldn't believe this," said Ali, a small entrepreneur. "I was planning to come here since the jheel was launched for public viewing but I'm really shocked to see its plight," he said.
Hatirjheel was supposed to be a prime beauty spot in the crowded capital city Dhaka since it had been formally launched in January 2013 to the pleasure of people hyping for fresh air and pleasant outing - leaving aside hard chores of their daily life.
But illegal occupation of land in the swamp, stinking water and an incomplete sewerage system have left the purpose of the lavish project largely undone, project officials and city dwellers say.
Work on developing the Hatirjheel fun-and-frolicking site in the heart of the 15 million-people city was done jointly by the army, city development authority (RAJUK), Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and others - with an aim to provide residents a safe outing away from crammed work time.
City dwellers were indeed enthralled when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened the pristine lagoon to the public. But soon it started losing its beauty and flavour as Hatirjheel authority failed to reclaim its lost land and drive the illegal occupants away. In absence of a proper sewerage system people residing or doing business around continued to release wastes into the loch with stinks filling the air and making the water dirty.
Visitors also contributed to the plight of Hatirjheel by throwing plastic packets, soft drink bottles and any other non-disposable waste packs in the water and on the shores of the jheel.
However, the project authorities hope the unfinished work including the sewerage system would be completed by June 2015 and adequate measures would be taken to protect the beauty and environment of the Hatirjheel.
Project sources said implementing authority of Hatirjheel sewerage system did not properly follow the designs. Further details on this were not available.
The Special Works Organisation (Army Engineering Corps), RAJUK, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authorities and LGED are implementing the project.
The Hatirjheel-Begunbari project has now been planned for multi-dimensional perspectives for ensuring various public facilities and recreation such as amphitheatre, water code, view wind code, floating gardens, water deck and water-taxi. Work on all these is going on and is expected to complete by the middle of next year.
"Human and industrial wastes from different adjoining areas are still released into Hatirjheel, where a water treatment plant is yet to be set up," a project official told the Daily Observer.
Water level in the Hatirjheel-Begunbari canal during dry season is likely to go down by 16 to 20 feet. Since the project includes public recreation- promenade, boating and water-taxi service, its required level water may have to be pumped in with a heavy recurring cost.
The main objective of the project was to drain out stagnant water from the city quickly during rainy season. Under the project, a ring road was considered surrounding the canal. Hatirjheel and Begunbari canal was once connected to Dhanmondi Lake. During late 1980s when Panthapath road was constructed, the open channel was filled up.
Hatirjheel-Begunbari enhanced communications system connecting Tongi Diversion Road and the Pragati Sarani to ease the chronic congestion, particularly at Mouchak, Maghbazar and Tejgaon intersections.
Jamal Akhter Bhuiyan, project director (PD) of the Hatirjheel Project of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (RAJUK) told the Daily Observer last week that 90 percent work of Hatirjheel project has already completed.
The Hatirjheel-Begunbari canal could not be completely freed from illegal establishments as the BGMEA headquarters, two makeshift mosques and a madrassa still exist in the middle of the canal.
The RAJUK failed to get rid of the 15-storey building of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) because of legal complexities and shift the mosques elsewhere considering religious sentiments.
The placements of the structures undermine the beauty of the water body and create obstacles to water discharge.
Of the two mosques, one namely Masjide Baitul Mahfuj is in Morolbari (Nayatola) part of the Hatirjheel-Begunbari canal and the other Syed Abdul Kader Jilani Jame Masjid and Madrassa is in Madhubagh Jhilpar part.
Two mosques will be shifted to other sites once a writ petition to the High Court is settled, Jamal Akhter Bhuiyan said. One madrassa is run by the Ahmedia Complex, a two-storey permanent building covering about two-decimal area in the canal.
The BGMEA building was constructed in 1998 by filling up a portion of the Hatirjheel canal causing the latter's water-retention capacity to decrease and obstruct normal flow. In the dry season, western part of the canal from the BGMEA building to Hotel Sonargaon goes dry.
In April 2012, the High Court declared that the construction of the BGMEA building was illegal and directed the respective authorities to demolish the building, giving the occupants a 90-day time to evacuate.
However, the BGMEA filed a petition in May 2013 with the Appellate Division against the HC ruling to demolish its office building at Hatirjheel. The case is still pending in the apex court. According to allegations, the building did not abide by the city development law of 1953.