Rajshahi prison authorities have partially dismantled a pre-colonial era building inside the jail complex in the city’s Sreerampur area in name of renovation.
But the move was undertaken without involving any archaeologist, who said the building bore a cultural heritage of Bengal region, and it is crucial to engage someone with adequate knowledge for its proper conservation.
According to authorities, the building -- which has become dilapidated and unusable for over five years -- was being used as the bungalow of deputy inspector general (prisons) since 19th century, and they are renovating it keeping the original design intact.
But this correspondent saw a complete different picture upon visiting the area on Thursday. Without consulting an archaeologist, the authorities engaged Public Works Department (PWD) to do the job.
PWD, also without any expert’s recommendations, recruited a contractor whose workers started the “renovation” work around four days back and they have already damaged the building’s century-old traditional lime terracing roof.
“The structure has a complex blending of European and the then Bengal’s vernacular designs,” Nurul Kabir, associate professor of Department of Archaeology at Jahangirnagar University, told this correspondent.
“This [blending of architectures] was later shaped into a unique Bengal heritage, which got popularity worldwide as bungalow,” said Nurul Kabir, who is also researching on colonial architecture and cultural heritage management.
Meanwhile, while talking to The Daily Star, Rajshahi Deputy Inspector General of Prisons Altab Hossain said they took up the renovation work, worth Tk 70 lakh, as the building’s roof has worn out. It leaked rainwater and its brick tiles were coming apart, he added.
He said, “We are not changing the original design. We took photographs of the building beforehand for its proper conservation.”
“Once renovated, it will look like the original one,” he assured. “We also told PWD to complete the renovation keeping that in mind.”
“We finally managed funds for renovation as a proposal for constructing separate residence for the DIG prisons remained shelved for a long time due to various constraints. Meanwhile, DIG prisons had to live in tin-shed house,” he added.
Contacted, Masud Rana, executive engineer of Rajshahi PWD, said, “It’s not mandatory for us to consult an archaeologist as the building is not listed as archaeologically-protected.”
“We have our own expertise and experience of conserving such buildings,” he claimed.
Prof Md Mozammel Hoque of Archaeology department at JU, however, said renovating a heritage building without an archaeologist is like performing a surgery without a doctor.
“Only a skilled doctor can perform a surgery. Another professional will not understand anatomy of a human body. If they perform a surgery, it will be illegal and a crime -- just like the authorities are doing with the building.”
Meanwhile, the contractor, whom PWD gave responsibility to complete the renovation work continued with the dismantling. The workers were seen demolishing the roof with full vigour.
The contractor, SM Mahbubul Haque, also a ward councillor, said, they would replace the roof with a concreate one and repair dampened walls. “We have been told to preserve originality of the building,” he said.
Asked how, he said they would keep the rafters (a series of sloped beams that extend from the ridge to the downslope perimeter, designed to support the roof deck and its associated loads) and purlins (a horizontal beam along the length of a roof, resting on principals and supporting the common rafters or boards) of the roof intact.
But archaeology teacher Nurul Kabir said conserving the building’s heritage by demolishing the roof was “simply not possible”.
“This pre-colonial era roof is usually sturdier than any present-day construction,” he said, adding that it became worn-out for lack of proper care.
He said the country has many specialists with expertise on conserving such buildings without destroying any part of it.
“The experts will be more than happy to provide consultation without any honorarium for the interest of conserving heritage. But such consultation is rarely sought,” he lamented.
This incident of dismantling a heritage is nothing new, said Mahbub Tunku, convener of Rajshahibasi, a citizens’ platform.
Many other historical structures such as Zilla Parishad’s Dak Bungalow at C&B intersection, Miapara Public Library, Lalkuthi at Fudkipara and a two-storied colonial-era building [co-operative bank], were also demolished this way, he alleged.
“Usually such demolitions are done with an ulterior motive, to embezzle money from the project fund. We condemn the process through which we are losing our heritage one after another,” he said.