A historic building at Chowhatta area in Sylhet city, a symbol of the iconic Assam pattern houses of the region, is waiting to be demolished, to make way for the 250-bed Sylhet District Hospital.
Public Works Department (PWD) began preparatory work for constructing the hospital on the premises that was being used as the Abu Sina Male Hostel of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College until early this year.
The building is built on 2.7 acres of land, while the total compound is about 8.3 acres, according to architect Rajon Das.
On January 30 last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid foundation stone of the hospital along with 20 other projects in Sylhet. PWD started the project on July 9, 2018 with a timeframe of 24 months, and the construction work on the land started last week.
According to the onsite project summary, an eight-storey building with a foundation of 15 storeys will be erected, that will hold the capacity of 250 beds and will cost Tk 87 crore.
Notably, the Saheed Shamsuddin Ahmed Hospital (Sylhet Sadar Hospital) is adjacent to the under-construction hospital, and the SOMC Hospital is only a kilometre away.
On Tuesday, a group of heritage and environment organisations arranged a human chain demanding that the building be preserved.
WHAT CONCERNED PARTIES SAY
Advocate Emad Ullah Shahidul Islam, former president of Sylhet District Bar Association said, “Heritage must be protected. Constructing a hospital adjacent to another and destroying a heritage building is a lame example of decision-making. It should be built in some other place so that the building will be preserved and people will be benefitted."
Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) Sylhet chapter said, “In 2012, we raised a demand to build a divisional museum in the building by transferring the hostel, but it is sad that no one cares about protecting heritage.”
Md Kutub Al Hossain, executive engineer of PWD in Sylhet said, “As far as we know, this old building was not on the list of preserved archaeological sites of the Department of Archaeology, and the old hostel building was unusable and risky”.
“Ministry decided to remove the old structure and establish the new district hospital there. Students of the hostel have been transferred to two newly constructed hostels at the medical college campus”, he said.
Dr Ataur Rahman, regional director of the Department of Archaeology said, “Any hundred year old building or any building that becomes a symbolic structure should be protected, whether they are on the protected list or not”.
“The PWD should have contacted the archaeology department prior to the demolition to get a clearance, and I believe such building of iconic Assam pattern must be protected, as these have immense archaeological value”, he said.
Sylhet City Corporation Mayor Ariful Haque Chowdhury said, “A couple of days ago, we came to know that there are plans to demolish the heritage building. While other countries are protective of their heritage, we plan to destroy them.”
“I urge that the heritage building must be protected, and the hospital be built in some other place," he said.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
Some say the building originally belonged to a zamindar family of Dohalia under Dowarabazar upazila in Sunamganj and the building was called "Dohalia House", while others say it belonged to Gourarang zamindar family of Sunamganj.
However, not all experts agree. “We have reasons to believe that it was not built by any zamindar, as the architecture does not reflect the pattern of any zamindar house. No zamindar house was designed with 468 feet by 315 feet internal court yard”, he said.
“This is typical of colonial-time architecture in the Assamese belt, which was supposedly built by the British for some institutional or administrative purpose,” Das added.
Speakers at Tuesday's human chain also claimed that the building housed the printing facilities for “Shrihatta Press”, the first newspaper from the region, in 1876.