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Govt apathy puts Dhaka city polls on hold

Taib Ahmed and Shahin Akhter

The government’s apparent indifference has put elections to the two Dhaka city corporations, the north and the south, on hold for years while city dwellers keep suffering for lack of services.
The High Court on May 13, 2013 dismissed a writ that had challenged the legality of the city elections scheduled for May 24, 2012 but neither the local government ministry nor the Election Commission has taken any visible initiatives to hold the elections.
The commission has avoided its responsibility by saying that it was unable to hold the polls for demarcation-related problems in both the city corporation areas which the LGRD and cooperatives ministry is supposed to resolve.
The government divided the erstwhile Dhaka City Corporation into two entities in November 2011 in an apparent move to remove the then mayor Sadeque Hossain, also a senior BNP leader, through the enactment of a law provisioning for elections in the next 90 days.
Although the commission announced the schedule for the polls to two city  corporations posting the polling for May 24, 2012, a writ petition followed by a High Court stay order halted the polls.
Since then, the city dwellers have been suffering for lack of services in the absence of elected representatives as they could not approach anyone to lodge complaints or for seek services as the city corporations continue to be run by administrators.
All offices of of the 90 ward commissioners have been vacant since the city corporation was split.
Whenever the attention of the chief election commissioner, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, was called to the city polls, he expressed the commission’s inability to hold the polls because of delimitation problems.
Rakibuddin on a number of occasions said that the commission was ready to hold the elections but the local government ministry would need to resolve the demarcation problems before any such elections.
‘We will hold elections to the city corporations in Dhaka whenever the ministry resolves the problems,’ he said.
Rakibuddin said that the local government ministry had demarcated some areas of city corporations based on cadastral and review surveys which created problems in preparing the area-wise electoral roll of the city corporations.
The commission on on February 10 sent a letter to the local government ministry asking it to resolve the problems at the earliest to pave the way for holding the long overdue city polls.
Commission officials said that the commission was willing to hold the polls to Dhaka city corporations after the forthcoming upazila council elections expected to be completed by March.
A local government ministry official said that the ministry was working to resolve the problems. The newly appointed LGRD secretary, Manjur Hossain, could not be reached till Saturday evening for comments.
The state minister for local government and rural development, Mashiur Rahman Ranga, said that he knew nothing about the elections to the city corporations. ‘I know nothing about this as LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam handles the matter,’ he added.
The commission could not hold polls despite repeated attempts even  though the undivided Dhaka City Corporation served out its tenure in 2007.
The previous Election Commission, headed by ATM Shamsul Huda, in 2010 had taken a move to hold the polls but the Awami League-led government did not agree to the commission’s move, election officials said.
In the absence of elected representatives, city people cannot approach anyone for documents and certificates or with complaints regarding failures of the two new city corporations.
They also said that they could easily collect certificates from ward offices when the Dhaka City Corporation was undivided.
A resident of Mirpur, Mohammad Shamdani, said that he had to visit the Dhaka North City Corporation zonal office for a birth certificate and earlier he could have his job done with the office of he ward commissioner.

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