For over a hundred years, Birchandra Ganapathagar (public library) has been a centre for educational, cultural, intellectual and socio-political activities in Cumilla city.
Established in 1885 in the heart of the town in Kandirpaar area, this library, also known as Cumilla Town Hall, stands tall on a sprawling 3.4 acres of land.
It was constructed by then Tripura King Birchandra Manikka Bahadur. A library and a two-storey auditorium were also built on the premises.
However, disregarding its significance of history, tradition and culture and importance as an archaeological heritage, a decision has been taken to demolish it to make way for a "new and modern" town hall.
The Public Works Department (PWD) has already drafted a design proposal for the new establishment that includes auditorium, multi-storey building, VIP lounge, car parking and others.
PWD sent the proposal to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs for approval. As the place has cultural and historical significance, it needs approval from the ministry in this regard, said officials concerned.
This plan to "modernise" the Town Hall meanwhile has met with staunch criticism from cultural activists, civil society members and locals.
A witness to some of the most important events in our history such as the Language Movement and Liberation War, this town hall has been graced by the presence of distinguished individuals including Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Mahatma Gandhi, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Haque and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, among others, they said.
Cumilla Theosophical Society, Cumilla Club and Ministerial Officers' Club were also established on the Town Hall premises -- in 1889, 1917 and 1920.
Asked, Dr Ataur Rahman, regional director of Chattogram and Sylhet division of the Department of Archeology, said Cumilla Town Hall is a heritage site and must be protected.
A 16-member executive committee headed by the deputy commissioner of Cumilla is authorised to run the Town Hall.
Talking to The Daily Star, officials of the district administration said the initiative has been taken following the request of Cumilla-6 lawmaker AKM Bahauddin Bahar, an "adviser" to the Town Hall committee.
Mentionable, there is also a four-storey market on the property, which is owned by him.
The lawmaker earlier sent a letter to the ministry and in response, the ministry asked PWD to draft a design proposal for the new establishment.
On September 2, Bahar held a views-exchange meeting at the DC's office on design proposal and demolishing the structure, confirmed DC Abul Fazal Mir.
Reserved seat lawmaker Anjum Sultana Sima, a resident of Cumilla, said, "We are shocked to hear the news. This historical structure should not be demolished."
Freedom fighter and eminent cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuff said not just for its historical significance, this town hall is also important as it is a place for people of the city to spend quality time with their family and friends and relish its splendour.
This correspondent also spoke to city planners and archaeologists who said the structure must be preserved and maintained properly instead of being demolished.
Asked, DC Abul Fazal Mir, president of the town hall executive committee, said he had nothing to do with the initiative. The local lawmaker sent the letter to the ministry regarding the demolition and construction works.
"The cultural affairs ministry will take its final decision in this regard," he added.
Contacted, lawmaker Bahauddin Bahar said the structure has become old and unsafe so it needs to be built anew. He also assured that the new structure will be similar to the old one.
He did not elaborate any further.