Hrishikesh Das Road’s House no 43, a near century-old antique structure in Old Dhaka built during the British rule, is about to become history.
Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) on February 28 green-lighted the property owner’s request to demolish the structure reportedly built in late 1920s.
The demolition of the old-fashioned two-storied house to make room for a multi-storied apartment building began last week, amid protests from Old Dhaka residents as well as members of archaeological and architectural societies.
Urban Study Group (USG), a non-profit volunteer organization which aims to protect the historical urban fabric of Old Dhaka, on Friday formed a human chain at Dhaka’s Bahadur Shah Park and staged demonstrations in front of the antique building to stop its demolition.
USG Chief Executive (Architecture) Taimur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune: “The human chain program has been called as a protest against the ongoing destruction of heritage sites in Old Dhaka, triggered by the RAJUK’s recently published and faulty heritage list.”
Sources said that 93 heritage buildings on 13 roads, including Hrishikesh Das Road, Shakhari Bazar Road, Tati Bazar Road, Farashganj Road and B K Das Road, under four areas— Farashganj, Shakari Bazar, Sutrapur and Ramna— were declared as heritage sites for their historic, aesthetic, scientific and social importance through a gazette published by RAJUK on February 12, 2009.
However, RAJUK amended the heritage list on November 29 last year, removing 18 previously declared heritage buildings and the aforementioned areas from the list.
Locals and activists claimed many heritage sites in Old Dhaka have been facing disaster due to the incompleteness of the heritage list, adding that the withdrawal of protection for the four aforementioned areas had paved the way for the demolition of house no 43.
“If this continues, nothing will remain of this building after a week,” Taimur said.
He further said: “Not only this particular building, the demolition of other historic sites in different areas of Old Dhaka also started in the last couple of weeks. Historic house no 26 on B K Das Road has already been destroyed. The demolition of House No 2 in Shakari Bazar also began recently. The demolition of antique buildings is still continuing in historic areas such as Rajar Deuri and Kailash Lane.”
Laxmi Bazar’s Kazi Nazrul Government College Teacher Yasin Kazi said: “While our neighboring India is protecting its heritage sites from the British and Mughal periods, the historic buildings are being destroyed in Bangladesh.”
“The ancient buildings, infrastructures and sites carry the historic characteristics of 400-year old Dhaka. In order to uphold the country’s history and identity before world, we must protect them,” Yasin added at the human chain.
Razib Hossain, a UGS volunteer, said Bangladesh had made significant progress in various sectors since its independence, but archaeology was not one of them.
“The government should be concerned over the demolition of our heritage and take necessary initiatives to protect heritage sites immediately,” he added.
Speakers at the human chain also said the High Court had given a directive to the government to enhance the heritage list during the demolition of the District Parishad Building in 2012, but there was no evidence of the directive being implemented in the five years that have passed.
Criticizing RAJUK for shortening the list and eliminating the four areas, they urged the government to cancel the faulty list and formulate a complete and sustainable development friendly list to protect all heritage sites.
Later, protestors marched on different roads in Old Dhaka and staged a demonstration in front of house no 43 on Hrishikesh Das Road.
Property owner Miza Habibur Rahman could not be reached for comment. However, Habibur’s relative Shopnil Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune that they were destroying the house in order to build a 10-storey apartment building.
“We have government clearance to destroy the building and it is not listed as a heritage site,” Shopnil said.
The Dhaka Tribune on Friday attempted to reach RAJUK Chairman Abdur Rahman for his comment on the demolition, but he was not available over mobile phone. Earlier on Thursday, the RAJUK chief asked the Dhaka Tribune to contact him on Monday or Tuesday.