At last the government has taken a concrete step to save the heritage buildings of the capital city by constituting a subcommittee that will make a list of the heritage sites and take necessary actions.
Urban development committee, the highest government body to look after the development of the city, in a meeting on May 27 decided to take immediate steps to save the city's heritage sites.
This is the first time the committee, comprising experts and government representatives, has discussed the heritage issue, committee members said.
The meeting also decided to take steps to save Barabari, a magnificent heritage building of the colonial period at Farashganj in Old Dhaka.
A proposal was placed at the meeting to form an 11-member subcommittee comprising architects, historians, representatives from Department of Archaeology (DoA) and other relevant persons working in this field.
"The subcommittee will make a list of the heritage buildings because the present list of the DoA does not include all historically important buildings,” said ASM Ismail, chief architect, DoA.
“Besides, DoA has to work under many limitations and is unable to take action sometimes," said Ismail.
He said the subcommittee will be formed by next week.
"The subcommittee will decide which buildings will be saved. If anyone [owner] wants to renovate any part of the building he will have to take permission from the committee," he said.
Asked how they are going to save the heritage buildings, which are privately owned, Ismail said, "We will practise things like transfer of development rights (TDR) where arrangements will be made for the owners to construct building without harming the heritage building. We will also take steps on giving support to the owners."
The subcommittee will be formed according to the National Building Code 2006 that says such a committee will comprise noted experts from the fields of architecture, planning, engineering, history, art, literature or any other discipline which may be deemed relevant to identify and save buildings with historical, architectural, archaeological and aesthetic values.
In the last few years several edifices of historical importance were razed to ground or modified to the convenience of the occupiers.
In several reports published in Star City this year on Barabari at Farashganj, Nimtoli Deuri and a magnificent edifice at Tantibazar presented a picture of vulnerable state of the city's heritage buildings.
Star City also reported the steady demolition and vulnerable existence of old edifices like 600-year old Binat Bibi Mosque at Narinda, 150-year old Ruplal House at Farashganj, 120-year old Bhawal Raja's Kachharibari (tax office) and retreat at Nolgola, and 87-year old Shankhanidhi House on Tipu Sultan Road which has turned into an automobile workshop.
Historians, conservation architects and experts working in the field of conservation architecture expressed hope that though late the high-powered body has woken up to save the heritage of the city at long last.
"To us working in the field of conservation it is a milestone in the history of the campaign to save the heritage of the city," said a conservation architect. "Practical laws are needed to uphold the spirit of saving heritage."
Members of the urban development committee also term it a turning point.
“It was the first time the meeting discussed the heritage issue of the city. We expect that this time something concrete will be done to save heritage," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, director, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), and a member of urban development committee.
"It was essential to form a such committee to make a list of the buildings because at present we have a short list for our heritage buildings. Many important buildings are not on this list and many are being demolished for commercial purposes," she said.
Bureaucratic tangles are another reason the buildings are being demolished.
"Rajuk has a mandate to save DoA-listed buildings. But many important buildings are being demolished because they are not listed and Rajuk cannot save those because they are not listed. On the other hand, DCC is frequently sending notices to the owners of these buildings to demolish those terming them 'risky'. This is a cycle which should be broken," said Taimur Islam, a conservation architect of Urban Study Group.
LEGAL NOTICE SENT TO SAVE BARABARI
A legal notice was served on May 22 by BELA, Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and Urban Study Group on Rajuk, cultural secretary, DoA director, CEO of DCC and DMP commissioner asking them to take legal steps according to the law to save Barabari, a magnificent heritage building in the old part of the city.
"The demolition work is withheld for the time being and we are looking up to Rajuk to see what they are going to do to save the building. If the subcommittee is formed and they can do the things they are saying then we need to do nothing. But otherwise we will have file petition at the court to get a stay order," said Taimur.
Asked what can be done if they start demolition before forming the subcommittee, he said, "If they start demolishing again, then we will inform Rajuk. If they do not respond then we will file a petition for a stay order from the court.”