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National building code delayed 12 years

  • Published at 12:39 am April 20th, 2019
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The file photo shows an area of Dhaka city Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

A probe report on the Banani FR Tower fire urged the government to approve and adopt the new building code immediately

With the recent fires in the capital, the Bangladesh National Building code (BNBC) has come under fresh scrutiny, particularly since it has not been updated in the past 12 years.

In 2006, the government formed a committee to update the BNBC. It took nine long years for the House Building and Research Institution (HBRI) to submit a final draft in 2015. It has still not been issued as a gazette by the Ministry of Housing and Public Works.

HBRI officials said they finalized the draft in 2014, but could not say why it was never published.

Abdul Wahed, principal research engineer at HBRI who led the BNBC research at the institution, said: “After we submit the draft, it is up to the ministry to issue it as a gazette. We have done our part. There is nothing more to say.”

The building code has provisions for a new central body, the Bangladesh Building Regulatory Authority (BBRA), to implement and enforce building codes nationwide, instead of having several local bodies. It also clearly defines what constitutes a high-rise building. In addition, the building code draft also lists bamboo as a construction material.

A probe report on the Banani FR Tower fire urged the government to approve and adopt the new building code immediately.

Kazi Golam Nasir, chief architect at the Department of Architecture of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, also current convener of the Steering Committee, said: “The law ministry vetted the draft. The building code is in our hands now. We will publish the updated building code in a gazette.”

He refused to elaborate further as he is a member of the probe committee for the Banani fire.

A battle over terms

According to a number of sources, forming the BBRA and discrimination between diploma engineers and engineers, are the main reason for the delay in.

Diploma engineers have diplomas and are members of the Institute of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh (IDEB). An engineer is one who obtains a bachelor’s degree and is a member of the Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh. They both work as “supervisor, construction” according to the building code draft.

In high-rise building construction, only IEB engineers are allowed as supervisors, while diploma engineers are allowed in up to 10 storey building construction only. 

Diploma engineers feel slighted by this regulatory distinction between two types of engineers.

What stakeholders and the ministry say

Housing and Public Works Secretary Md Shahid Ullah Khandaker said: “We will publish the updated building code in a gazette very soon. Everything has been submitted to the minister and he wishes to do it as soon as possible. It took so long because we took opinions from everyone who is either an expert or has a stake in this regard. 

“The building code has a provision for an apex body, but it is not possible to describe what it will look like. Nothing is certain until the gazette is published.”

Md Shamsur Rahman, general secretary of IDEB, said: “How the building code defines engineers is an insult to us. It names us diploma engineers and those who have obtained bachelor degrees are simply engineers. They should be called degree engineers if we are called diploma engineers.”

“When they tried to publish the draft in 2017, we went to the prime minister to prevent the discriminatory gazette from being published. We do want the building code to be published immediately, but after they remove the discrimination.”

What the new building code says
  • Bamboos are construction material
  • High-rise buildings are 10 storeys and over
  • Diploma engineers cannot supervise high-rise construction
  • A new apex body will enforce the code nationwide

Md Abdus Samad, president of Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh, said: “We want a safe and sustainable building environment, and we need the building code immediately for this. To ensure quality construction, everybody should be appointed according to merit, quality, education, and training background in building construction. I am not looking to undermine anyone, but it is true that you cannot involve people who lack the ability to do it.

“As the country is moving forward economically and in various others sectors, we need a separate authority to properly implement the building code. But the building code has to be flexible to be updated as necessary. It cannot be set in stone,” he elaborated.

BBRA structure

The BBRA shall consist of five members headed by the chairman and appointed for three years. The members will come from different but related fields like: planning, civil engineering, architecture, law, and civil service. An architect or civil engineer will be appointed chairman by the government. The BBRA will be the apex body to implement the building code under the Ministry of Housing and Public Works.

It will also appoint officials to implement the building code countrywide.

What defines a high-rise building?

According to the existing building code, if a building is more than 5 stories or 20 meter high, it is considered a high-rise building. The revised building code will define high-rises as 10 stories or at least 33 meter high.

Under the new building code, buildings below 10 stories will not require a fire certificate, but high-rise buildings will have to obtain one from the Fire Service.