Mindless construction puts Mughal-era Eidgah at risk
The oldest surviving Mughal Eidgah structure in the capital stands eclipsed by permanent structures as a local mosque committee has turned a grocery shop into a 'research centre' and is erecting a six-storey mosque on the Eidgah premises without Rajuk approval.
Dhanmondi Eidgah mosque committee is constructing the building and maintaining the research centre without approval from Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) as required by the Building Construction Act and Dhaka Metropolitan Building Rules.
“This Eidgah is the oldest surviving Mughal monument in Dhaka city. There is no second one with the architectural forms and features similar to it,” conservationist architect Abu Sayeed M Ahmed said.
Popularly known as Dhanmondi Eidgah by the road no-6/A, the 368-year old structure is a listed archaeological site of the Department of Archaeology.
According to Sayeed, it is a monumental structure built during the Mughal dynasty, with historical, architectural and heritage value and testimony of an era.
This is an urban open space and it has been in use for Eid congregation since it was built in 1640. The under-construction building within five feet of the Eidgah has blocked the main entry to it, Sayeed said.
Devotees of Eid-congregation and the aspiring visitors now have to take a detour around the new mosque to get to the Eidgah.
Sayeed feared that the Eidgah structure got weakened by the rig vibration during piling of the new building. “It is a very bad choice of site for construction of a huge building, as it has spoilt the elegant look of the heritage monument,” said Sayeed.
The monument has also been overshadowed by the grocery shop that mosque committee has turned into a 'Islamic Research Centre' within ten feet of Eidgah's central Mihrab (central prayer-niche).
Dhaka Metropolitan Building Rules of 2008 requires that any development intervention within 250-metre radius of an archaeological and heritage site must seek permission of government's high-powered Nagar Unnayan Committee before approaching the Rajuk Building Committee for plan approval.
Government must protect all the heritage icons of Dhaka city, said Sayeed.
Bangladesh Rifles erected the grocery shop as part of its open market sale programme and left the site recently. Then the mosque committee managed to retain the structure in name of the research centre.
Besides, the committee also runs a Hafizia Madrasa within the Eidgah premises. Dhaka Wasa has a water pump house while Desa runs a complaint centre at the heritage site.
Mubasshar Hussain, president of the Institute of Architects Bangladesh and a member of Nagar Unnayan Committee, said the research centre is no way compatible with the sanctity and historical value of the Eidgah structure.
“It has spoilt the original look of the heritage structure,” he said. “Eidgah is not only a historical relic but also an architectural piece and a cultural treasure of the nation.”
Neither BC Act nor building rules has exempted mosque buildings from compliance with the design approval, said Hussain.
Atiqul Habib, secretary general of Dhanmondi Eidgah Mosque Committee, said that they kept the grocery shop for research centre as everyone in the committee agreed to it.
Regarding design approval for the new mosque building, he first said that they got it from the Public Works Department (PWD). Then he said that the building design was approved by the Department of Architecture.
“We do not need approval from Rajuk, as the mosque building is being built under PWD,” said committee's treasurer Rezaul Karim. But PWD Chief Engineer Abdullah-Al-Shafi said, “The chief engineer of PWD does not have any authority to do so.”
ASM Ismail, chief architect of Department of Architecture, said that they have just endorsed the architectural plan of the building but construction of the building requires design approval from Rajuk under the BC Act.
“They have to obtain approval of the building design from Rajuk,” said Ismail.
The chief architect is empowered to approve design only of the government buildings.
The Eidgah spreads over around 3.5 bighas of land.
The mosque committee managed a permission from the public works ministry in the fag end of BNP government to use approximately 14 kathas of land to build a new mosque demolishing the existing old one.
“We are going to demolish the old mosque to complete the new one,” said Atiqul Habib.
He said that the committee has already spent Tk 1.80 crore from 'donation' fund and contribution of building materials for the basement and first and second floors of the new mosque while the entire project requires Tk 12 crore.
He also said that the mosque committee has applied to the embassies of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates for funds but they have not responded yet.
Highly placed sources in the PWD said expressing resentment that the issue of mosques is a problematic phenomenon in enforcing building rules.
Retired high-ups and influential people are active in such mosque committees, who make unacceptable requests and frantic lobbying, said a high official.
“They are so fast in establishing connections with the government's policymakers that agencies concerned cannot keep pace with the normal rules and procedure,” he said.
Though the mosque committee started construction work on February 26, Rajuk has been 'unaware' of it. Rajuk's Director (development control) Sheikh Abdul Mannan said that he was not aware of the unauthorised building construction but he would look into it.
Rajuk's authorised officer concerned said, “In case construction is found without approval, we will serve notice as per Building Construction Act.”
An inscription of Department of Archaeology, referring to a Persian inscription set over the central prayer-niche, reads that Mir Abul Qa'asim, Diwan of Subedar Prince Shah Suja of the Mughal Dynasty, erected the Eidgah. It was meant for use twice annually during Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha congregations.