Slow pace, irregularities mark monument construction
Since its inception in 2001, the Liberation War affairs ministry has taken up two projects to identify and preserve killing fields in different parts of Bangladesh, but both initiatives have been marred by irregularities and slow pace.
The first such scheme was taken up in 2004. In the next four years until 2008, the ministry identified 193 killing fields, but was able to build monuments on only 35 of them, at a cost of Tk 60 crore.
In addition to the slow pace, the project saw irregularities in the construction work.
In 2016, officials from the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the planning ministry visited 12 of these monuments to check their current state.
The team found 11 of them in dilapidated condition. Each of the 11 was constructed using very poor-quality materials. The structural strength of the monuments was also found very weak. Heaps of garbage were found in and around them all, according to the inspection report seen by The Daily Star.
In the second phase under the current government, the ministry started building 280 monuments in the killing fields in 110 upazilas in 40 districts. The project, which is ongoing, would cost an estimated Tk 442 crore, much of which will go to acquiring land. Each monument will cost an estimated Tk 80.92 lakh.
Initially, the project duration was set from July 2018 to June 2021, which was extended twice, first up to 2023 and then up to June 2025. The project saw about 19 percent progress as of December this year, a highly project source told The Daily Star yesterday.
"We have completed work in 35 killing fields till June this year. We hope to complete work in nine more killing fields this year," said Md Jahangir Alam, project director and deputy secretary of the Liberation War affairs ministry.
But allegations of irregularities have surfaced again.
In June this year, an IMED team inspected three killing fields where work has been completed in the second phase, and identified irregularities in two of those.
The team found that adulterated and low-grade sand was used in the construction work. At the killing field in Sylhet Cadet College, the contractors did not install any drainage system. As a result, rainwater was seen clogged during the visit, which was rainy season. The plaster of the columns of the monuments were also done very poorly, according to the inspection report obtained by The Daily Star.
"I don't know about the first phase. Regarding the second phase, when the inspection team from IMED visited the monuments, they were still under construction. I don't know how they could submit a report after visiting some under-construction monuments," said Project Director Jahangir Alam.
Julhas Ali Sarker, assistant director of IMED who led the inspection team, said, "The materials used to build the monuments were of extremely poor quality. We found that adulterated sand was used in those monuments. I have presented my findings clearly in the report. How they will deal with these is absolutely an internal matter of the relevant ministries."
Corruption in constructing monuments for war martyrs is not just a heinous crime, it is also an insult to their memories, said Shahriar Kabir, chairman of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee.
INTERESTED IN LARGE PROJECTS
Researchers say the government should go for installing small memorial plaques in the killing fields instead of building large monuments. This way, the government will be able preserve all the killing fields at a much lower cost.
"In 1996, we submitted a design for the monuments made by eminent artist Hashem Khan to the cultural affairs ministry. If the ministry accepted that design, they could have constructed monuments in all the killing fields by now," said Prof Muntassir Mamoon.
"But the ministry always seems interested in constructing large-scale monuments," added the eminent historian, who is also the chairperson of 1971: Genocide-Torture Archive and Museum Trust.
Over the last five years, the Genocide Museum Trust has repeatedly submitted proposals for constructing monuments in the killing fields within reasonable budgets, but the ministry did not respond, he said.
Genocide researchers say officials are more interested in constructing large-scale monuments as there are more opportunities for bribery.
Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said he is not aware of any irregularities in construction work of monuments, but will take action if there are any specific allegations.