Old Dhaka must preserve its historic character
It is literally going, going, gone for the heritage buildings in Old Dhaka, as the region fast loses its historic character amid a wave of development that threatens to replace them with high-rise residential and commercial buildings. On paper, these historically and aesthetically significant structures are protected by law. Any attempt to demolish them is also in violation of a 2018 High Court directive that asked the authorities to stop changing, modifying or demolishing the 2,200 British-era buildings named in a list of the Urban Study Group (USG), a conservation platform. But they remain under constant threat anyway, thanks to lack of enforcement of relevant laws and the greed of present-day owners.
Merely a month into the demolition of a century-old building named Neelam Ghar, we are shocked to learn of an attempt on another such building in Bangla Bazar. Reportedly, owners of the two-storey building started to demolish it a few days ago, and would have knocked it down if not for the last-minute intervention of police at the behest of USG. Apparently, the demolition process did not have Rajuk's approval either, another violation of the law. The disaster could be averted for now, but any satisfaction may be short-lived as, conservation activists fear, the owners may try to destroy the building again. Past experiences show that owners of such buildings, usually backed by local politicians and businessmen, can go to any length to reach their goal.
A strong network of land-hungry businessmen with the blessings of local political elements has already demolished or compromised the integrity of many heritage buildings. Some were replaced by multi-storied commercial buildings. These people do not realise that any conversion of such real estate at the heart of Dhaka may fetch crores of taka, but the damage done to the intrinsic value and history of this land is irreparable. These buildings are living proof of a past long gone but one which continues to remind us of the journey we have had as a nation through the centuries. They teach and inspire us, and will do the same for posterity, if preserved properly. As such, the question remains, what shall we be left with if all traces of the glorious past of this city are wiped out one by one?
We urge the authorities to strictly enforce the laws and directives related to the conservation of all heritage sites and buildings in the country. No one, however powerful, should be allowed to destroy them or damage their architectural integrity. The authorities must take measures to properly preserve them.