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5 August, 2019 12:33:15 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 7 August, 2019 05:21:24 PM

Colonial-era structures crumble due to apathy

Colonial-era structures crumble due to apathy

Lack of policy and negligence shown by the authorities concerned plagues almost all the magnificent colonial structures in Dhaka.

The Department of Archaeology  has so far gazetted only 22 buildings and sites as the capital’s heritage sites. Out of these, six at Kotowali thana, two at Sutrapur thana and two at Lalbagh thana are structures from the colonial era. The rest are pre-Mughal and Mughal-era structures.

The structures are Ruplal House, Nawab Bari Main Gate, Jamindar Bari at Sutrapur, Shankhanadi House, Shankhanadi Dance House and Bhajhari Lodge at Sutrapur, North Barok Hall and Rose Garden at Sutrapur and Tomb of Colombo Sahib and Tomb of Joseph Pagit at Lalbagh.

Historians and architects, however, say that Sankharibazar and Tantibazar areas in the capital alone have more than 100 colonial structures that should be declared and protected as heritage sites.

Incidentally, Rajdhani Unnyan Kortipokkho (RAJUK), the capital’s development agency, in 2009 prepared a separate list to identify and term a total of 93 colonial structures as heritage structures. It sent a letter to the erstwhile united Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) to take appropriate measures to protect those.

The two city corporations, in keeping with the Local Government Act 2009, look after vulnerable structures of the capital. The 93 structures that were listed by RAJUK were all termed as vulnerable and the capital’s development agency handed over the task of protecting those to the civic bodies.

But The Independent found out that the city corporations are not equipped with any provision to protect those structures from demolition. Only the Antiquity Act 1968 can declare a site as "heritage site" and protect it from demolition.

The High Court, in August last year, directed the government to prepare a complete list of all heritage structures in Dhaka city and submit a report to the court by mid-December.

That list, however, has not been prepared yet.

Following a writ petition filed by the Urban Study Group (USG), the HC issued the directive to the cultural affairs, housing and public works, and local government ministries.

The USG heritage list for Dhaka includes 2,793 buildings. The USG’s move came in the wake of a controversial list published by RAJUK as a gazette notification on November 29, 2017. That RAJUK list included only 75 buildings.

Taimur Islam, an architect by profession and the chief executive officer of the USG, has long been working to protect the historic colonial structures in Dhaka.

After a building collapsed at Shankharibazar in 2004, the city authorities decided to survey the area and recommended that 91 out of the 157 buildings at Shankharibazar be pulled down.

Taimur and his architect wife Humaira, however, strongly protested against the decision and took a strong stand against it along with the local people. “These structures represent the history of Dhaka, they should be protected and properly maintained”, said Taimur Islam.

He said the authorities concerned should go for area conservation instead of saving individual structures. “Many owners of the house prefer to demolish the structures and sell the land as the price of land has increased. This should be stopped and the government should take measures to strengthen and protect the structures from extinction”, he added.

Eminent historian Muntasir Mamun said the river bank of Dhaka attracted many wealthy persons to build exquisite colonial structures. He named several beautiful colonial-era mansions like Ahsan Manjil, Weis’s House, Ruplal House, Reboti Mohon Saha’s House, Jatin Saha’s House, Prasanna Babu’s House, Mathura Babu’s House, Uma Babu’s House, Ashu Babu’s House, Basanta Babu’s House, Lal Kuthi, Jeo, Radha Govinda and Sitaram Mandirs.

Rose Villa, Chandra and Sushila Kutir, Sur Sudha, Sankhanidhi, Katras, Lakshminarayan, Dhakeswari and Brahmasamaj temples, Gouri Math, Binat Bibi, Farrukh Shiar’s, Tara, Dayra, Kamranga, Beg, Vatt, Kazi Nehal, Mirdha, Kusumpatti, Dakhini, Anandabazar and Begumbazar mosques, St. Thomas and Armenian churches, Dufferin Hostel and Mohsinia Madrasa, Pogose and Collegiate schools, Hussaini Dalan and St. Gregory School and church are also some of the most beautiful structures.

Mamun, however, said many more edifices have perished due to negligence. “The few that have survived are in disrepair now, often illegally occupied and used deleteriously”, he observed.

“There is need to carry architectural documentation and conservation to protect them from decay and damage, with special consideration on the townscape value”, he added.

Architect Saiful Haque said colonial architecture symbolises the knowledge and power of the victor as the people who were being ruled had neither the knowledge nor the need to build on the scale that colonial structures were built.

The colonial architecture were once symbols of oppression, but they now can be seen, setting aside the political context, as architectural achievements both in terms of style and engineering, he noted.

“We are not happy about colonial rule, but these buildings were built with our money. And they reveal certain types of design and construction method. In order to build effectively today, we need to know the knowledge of the past,” he added.

He also said most of the colonial architectures that remain erect till this day is concentrated around the Ramna enclave. “But many colonial buildings in the older parts of Dhaka have vanished,as the authorities concerned didn’t take measures to protect those”, he added.

He said neighbouring Kolkata has been successful in consolidating the efforts of the civil bodies and drumming up funds to restore some of the most beautiful colonial-era buildings. “We should learn from them”, he opined.

Rakhi Roy, deputy director of the Department of Archaeology, said the department’s hands are tied due to funds constraint. “Also, most of the colonial era structures need major restoration work as they are vulnerable. We don’t have the expertise to do so”, she added.




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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