Nothing done to protect heritage sites | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 15, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 15, 2008

Nothing done to protect heritage sites

Over 200 buildings in Dhaka need to be put under urgent conservation scheme

Two unprotected magnificent heritage buildings at Farashganj (top) and scores of heritage buildings at Farashganj.Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

Conservation of invaluable heritage sites in the 400-year old city of Dhaka has always been ignored, leading to destruction of the sites, said noted architects and historians.
Successive governments, though obliged constitutionally to protect the nation's cultural properties, have allowed destruction of the heritage sites one after another.
“In fact, nothing has been done so far to protect these sites,” said Prof Muntasir Mamoon, who has extensively worked on Dhaka's history. “Businessmen and the rulers have consistently destroyed our heritage and cultural properties.”
The noted historian said, “Destruction of heritage sites and historical monuments started during Pakistan period on a moderate scale but it gained momentum after independence. Heritage properties suffered destruction in an appalling extent during military rule.”
Shamsul Wares, an eminent architect, said there would be hardly any testimony to the history, past traditions and lifestyle if heritage properties are destroyed recklessly.
“There are at least 200 heritage buildings in Dhaka that should be brought under conservation scheme immediately,” he said. “Conservation of heritage will enhance the image of Dhaka that evolved on the river Buriganga over centuries.”
There is a 'heritage council' in India for conservation of cultural properties, he said.
Panamnagar, a township set up by Hindu merchants during the colonial era in Sonargaon, has lost its originality and uniqueness as an architectural heritage site in the way of restoration work carried out by the government.
According to conservationist architects, friezes and other ornamental features of the old buildings are replaced with dissimilar and odd-looking features. Details of the ornamental works, their sizes and proportions are lost in the intervention.
In 2006, the World Monuments Fund rated Sonargaon-Panam City as one of the most endangered heritage sites.
Unesco has refused to declare Lalbagh Fort as a world heritage site because of improper restoration work, according to conservationist architect Abu Sayeed M Ahmed. He said Panamnagar may too face a similar fate.
According to experts, Dhaka University authorities have mutilated original architectural features of historic Curzon Hall in the name of 'repair and maintenance.'
Intricate job of recreating decayed eves, cupola, kiosks and omla kalasha (pitcher-like) ornamentation of the building has been done with masons and labourers without proper scientific documentation and on-site supervision of experts, they said.
Private occupants have demolished inner block of Barabari, a grand lime masonry building of colonial architecture at BK Das Lane in Farashganj. Ruplal House in Shyambazar has been occupied by traders.
Shankhanidhi House, enlisted as a heritage site by DoA, has been leased out by Dhaka district administration and an automobile workshop is running there.
The 600-year old Binat Bibi Mosque in Narinda has been partially demolished with the government remaining as silent spectator for long.
Aesthetic decorative features of Nalgola Rajbari in Mitford area have been recklessly mutilated and occupied by traders.
Though the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), the Metropolitan Building Rules of 2006 (revised in 2008) and the Antiquities Act of 1968 require the government to take measures and institute a standing committee to protect the heritage sites, the government has all along been idle on the issue.
At long last on May 27, the government's Nagar Unnayan Committee decided to form the standing committee headed by chief architect of the Department of Architecture.
ASM Ismail, chief architect of the DoA, said he has sent a proposal to the public works ministry for institution of the committee comprising noted experts in architecture, history, fine arts, literature and engineers and planners. Government is yet to form the committee.
Architect Taimur Islam, team leader of Urban Study Group, which spearheads a heritage conservation movement, has called upon the upcoming committee for comprehensive area conservation in the old part of Dhaka.
Barabari's importance lies in the architectural qualities and significance like space, scale and stylistic order, but the entire BK Das lane requires conservation as the urban fabric of the entire street is an integrated architectural entity, he said.
Shankharibazar, Farashganj, Narinda and Sutrapur are some areas that require immediate conservation because of their historical and archaeological significance, he said.
Apart from these, conservation efforts must also cover cultural landscapes like Shaheed Minar, Ramna Green, Buckland Bandh, Baldha Garden and Ali Mian's Gol Talab (pond).
There are at least 20-25 heritage areas in Dhaka that deserve conservation, Taimur said.
Prof Mamoon said urban settlement in Dhaka had begun long before the Mughal rulers set up a capital here in 1610. Heritage properties here mainly belong to three different eras -- Mughal, British colonial and Pakistani era.
The architectural and historical monuments belonging to the Mughal period include a number of mosques, Lalbagh Fort and Bara Katara among others in Dhaka.
“Bara Katara has long been illegally occupied,” he said.
There are some eternal heritage sites like the River Buriganga and its canals, Pilkhana, and Ramna Green, Prof Mamoon said adding that these public properties must not be designated for any exclusive and restricted occupancy.
Md Shafiqul Alam, director of government's Archaeology Department, said the department has a total of 12 enlisted sites and buildings in the capital city.
The list includes Bara Katra, Chhoto Katra, Hoseni Dalan, Lalbagh Fort, Hazi Khaza Shabaz Mosque, Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque, Ruplal House, Sankhanidhi House, Sat Masjid, North Brook Hall, Rose Garden, Old Eidgah Matth (field), Ruplal House, Shankhanidhi House, Radha Krishan Temple and Bhajahari Lodge.
Barring only one or two, all the enlisted archaeological sites and heritage buildings in Dhaka are out of the department's possession, said Alam.
The department, having 400 enlisted heritage sites across the country with 500 buildings, cannot perform its duty to the desired extent because of manpower shortage and financial constraints, he said. The department has a provision for manpower of 472 staff, while it is currently running with just 339, he added.

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