A rare feat of masonry on verge of destruction

Century-old Neelam Ghar being knocked down by bar association, claiming to run ‘renovation’ works
Around 30 to 35 labourers are working to knock down the Neelam Ghar to build a new structure for Dhaka Bar Association. The century-old establishment on the Court Street in Old Dhaka is recognised by conservationists as a rare feat of masonry. The property has been leased out to the association by the deputy commissioner’s office. The association is now planning to construct a multi-storey building by demolishing this structure. However, when asked, they claimed that they are only running renovation works on the building. This photo was taken yesterday. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Neelam Ghar -- a century-old building in Old Dhaka used by the British and Pakistani rulers to auction off confiscated objects -- has been pushed to the verge of demolition yesterday.

The two-storey building on Court House Street holds immense architectural value, say conservationists.

The Deputy Commissioner's Office of Dhaka, which is the custodian of the 15 decimals of land, leased the building out to the Dhaka Bar Association on February 15 for a year.

According to the lease documents, the lessee shall neither build anything new nor change, modify and repair the existing structure. Selling, handing over, and mortgaging the property is also prohibited.

However, the association started renovation works on the building against the clauses.

Firojur Rahman Montu, general secretary of DBA, claimed that they took permission from the Dhaka district administration to reform the building a month ago.

"The building is being renovated now. It will not be knocked down," Montu told this newspaper.

"At present, there are some 27,760 enlisted lawyers at the bar, while around 57,000 lawyers are waiting to be enlisted. Hence, we need to make more space," he said.

Earlier, the association laid an engraved foundation stone mentioning Bangabandhu Bhaban at the site on March 7 inaugurated by DSCC Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh.

A human chain of Urban Study Group (USG), which was organised in protest of the demolition, was foiled by a group who tore down their banner, said Ekhlas Uddin Ahmed Khan, a USG volunteer.

He also alleged that the bar association members did it.

These correspondents visited the place yesterday at noon and learned that the structure is being demolished.

Fakhrul, a representative of the labourers employed at the site, said around 30 to 35 labourers are working to knock down the Neelam Ghar to build a new structure for DBA lawyers.

He, however, refused to share more details and asked these correspondents to talk to the association directly in case of further queries.

The office of Deaf Development Association was located at the Neelam Ghar where Aminul Haque Mintu has been working for five years as a caretaker.

"We left the building as it is being demolished for building a new one," he said.

Taimur Islam, USG chief executive, said they met Dhaka Deputy Commissioner yesterday who informed them that they did not approve of the demolition.

He said the Dhaka DC also instructed the assistant commissioner concerned to stop the demolition. However, a huge part of the building has already been demolished.

"We submitted a petition to the ministry concerned as well as the Dhaka DC office against this move earlier, '' he said.

Taimur said the demolition is also a violation of a 2017 High Court directive that ordered the authorities to stop changing, modifying and demolishing 2,200 British-era buildings named in the group's list of heritage sites in Old Dhaka, including Neelam Ghar.

"How an organisation like the bar association is doing something like this is incomprehensible," he said.

This structure is an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, with clear neoclassical influences, he said. The two-storey rectangular building has a courtyard and is finished with lime plaster with motifs and decorative elements crafted by hand lime mortar, a hallmark of the incomparable skills of the masons from Dhaka.However, DBA general secretary Montu claimed that the building is not one of the 2,200 buildings named in the 2017 HC directive.

Arun Krishna Pal, senior assistant commissioner of Dhaka DC office, said, "Our magistrate stopped the demolition work as per law."

Asked about the "renovation", he said, "I do not know anything about the matter. I will let you know on Monday."


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