Rajuk seals off illegally built BGMEA building and prepares for demolition
Eight long years after the High Court ruled it illegal, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) has finally begun the process to demolish the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) building in Dhaka.
A Rajuk team that was in front of the building since morning on Tuesday sealed off the building in Dhaka’s Tejgaon around 7pm.
The team arrived in the morning equipped with demolition vehicles, and around 70 policemen.
They came with two bulldozers, two wheeled excavators and a payloader to knock down the building. However, the demolition did not begin on Tuesday, as two banks and other businesses housed in the building were yet to vacate from there.
Khandakar Oliur Rahman, executive magistrate and Rajuk director (admin), told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are prepared to demolish the building, but first we need to evacuate it.”
When the organizations could not meet the deadline of 3pm, they were given two more hours, and then another two, and finally at 7pm the building was sealed off.
ASM Raihanul Ferdous, chief engineer of Rajuk, said after 7pm, all utility services will be cut off.
“According to the Supreme Court order, the building was to be demolished sometime after April 14 this year. Since we do not have any updated notice or order, we are here to carry out the court order,” said the official.
“There is no scope to withdraw from this decision, and no chance of neglect. We are completely prepared for the demolition process to start,” Director Oliur said.
Speaking to reporters outside the building, BGMEA Vice-President Mohammad Nasir said Rajuk should have given them more time to remove all valuables from the building.
Asked about compensating businesses who had purchased floors from BGMEA, he said the matter was yet to be decided.
’Great victory for rule of law’
Former justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik, who led the High Court bench that issued the verdict on the BGMEA building, said: “We mentioned in the verdict that BGMEA was never the owner of the land. The government had taken over the land. It could have employed the land in public welfare, but could not have given it to a private organization.”
The bench of justices Shamsuddin and Mohammad Zakir Hossain issued a rule on April 3, 2011 declaring the building illegal and ordered its demolition. In a strongly worded verdict, the court observed that the trade body had flouted laws and rules at every step, as had Rajuk.
“BGMEA’s high handed and, visibly arrogant, attitude reflects its abhorrent and weird resolve to project itself as being above law and demonstrate its ability to flout the law of the land with unfiltered impunity,” the court had observed.
Shamsuddin said he would wait to see the full verdict implemented.
“BGMEA has left the building. But its demolition is yet to begin. Another matter was we said they should bear the cost of demolition, and that has to be ensured,” he said.
Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), which was a party to the case, said: “I am happy beyond words. We have worked long and hard in this legal battle. This is a hallmark in establishing the rule of law.”
After the passage of the act to protect water bodies in 2000, this was the first time it was implemented, the lawyer and activist said.
“BGMEA building demolition order and implementation should be a lesson for those who are breaking the law - they need to correct their ways right now,” she said.
History of the controversial building
Under Awami League rule in 1998, BGMEA purchased the land beside Begunbari canal near Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel after securing permission from the Commerce Ministry.
They purchased the land for Tk5 crore from the Export Promotion Bureau and started construction work on November 28 that year. Mostafa Golam Quddus was the president of the trade body at the time.
Prime Minister Khaleda Zia inaugurated the building in October 2006. At the time, Tipu Munshi, the current industries minister, was the BGMEA president.
Different environmentalist groups raised objections against the building after portions of the Begunbari canal were filled up.
They claimed the building was constructed without permission of the Ministry of Housing and was in violation of the water body protection act of 2000.
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Following a report published in the English daily New Age, the High Court issued a suo moto rule on Oct 3, 2010 and declared the building illegal on April 3, 2011.
The High Court first ordered the BGMEA to move forward with demolition work on April 3, 2011. The association filed a leave to appeal against the verdict, which was later dismissed by the top court.
In June 2016, the Appellate Division upheld the High Court verdict and told the BGMEA to bear the cost of demolition.
On March 5, 2017, the Appellate Division rejected the review petition for the verdict on the demolition project.
In April 2018, the Supreme Court again ordered the BGMEA building be demolished. According to the order, the building was to be demolished sometime after April 12 this year.
The 15-storey building stands on a critical spot in Dhaka, blocking the water flow between Hatirjheel lake and Begunbari canal; and has been described by the Supreme Court as “a cancer in the Hatirjheel project.”
Later, the association sought a year’s extension to the latest deadline to demolish the building. Following the plea, the Supreme Court, in April 2018, granted BGMEA one more year to demolish its complex.
New BGMEA office in Uttara
The apex trade body of Bangladesh’s apparel manufacturers moved its office to Uttara on April 3. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally inaugurated the new BGMEA building through video conferencing from her office.
The new 16-storied building in Uttara Sector 17 has a floor space of 266,000 square feet. The organization has already moved most of their belongings to the new office.
BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman said: “We need a week's time to remove the rest of our belongings from the building before it can be demolished.”