• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:53 pm

Is legalizing illegal buildings a viable option?

  • Published at 10:57 pm February 16th, 2020
FR Tower should be a warning to us all
File photo: Civil Defence officials try to extinguish the fire at FR Tower Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Experts have welcomed the idea of fining the owners in order to validate the illegal structures, but stressed that the process will have to be monitored strictly to prevent further corruption

The number of buildings that have been built either illegally or violating the building code in Dhaka city and adjacent areas has gone to an extreme level that is now beyond the control of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk).

However, while the authorities concerned have been demolishing such illegal structures,Rajuk is now trying to come up with alternative ideas to manage the uncontrollable situation.

One of those suggested alternatives, according to the state agency’s draft Detailed Area Plan (DAP) [2016-2035] for the capital city,is legalizing illegal buildings by making their owners pay huge fines.

However, owners would not be able to legalize their structures if they are found disturbing the DAP, built on occupied government land, spaces meant for public use, filled water bodies and heritage sites, or crossing the height limit fixed by the aviation authorities.

The suggestion meanwhile raises questions regarding its feasibility, with Rajuk recently being dubbed equal to corruption by the Transparency International Bangladesh.

There have been numerous Rajuk officials who have been sued by the Anti-Corruption Commission over the years on various charges, including abuse of power, fraud, embezzlement, and forgery.

Experts have welcomed the idea of fining the owners in order to validate the illegal structures, but stressed that the process will have to be monitored strictly to prevent further corruption.

Some of them also called for making sure that the illegal portions of these buildings are demolished.

However, it is yet to be found how safe this will be for the public in the long term, as owners may just take advantage of the loopholes in the draft DAP, to just pay the imposed fine and legalize their riskily built buildings.

What’s the plan?

According to the draft DAP, three types of structures will be able to enjoy the legalization facility by paying fines, following inspections. For that, it has drawn a guideline too.

If an illegal building or part of it does not create any structural risk for itself or adjacent buildings and does not pose any environmental risk, the owner can apply to legalize it by paying a certain amount of fines.

To determine the fines, Rajuk’s draft DAP has prescribed a formula.

If a structure is built in line with the building code, but without the development authority’s approval, it will fall under category A.

For this type of building, authorities concerned can consider letting the owner legalize it by making them pay 10 times the amount they would have paid to get the construction approval on a plot.

If a structure is built with Rajuk’s approval, but not in line with the building code, twisting the original design,it will fall under category B.

For this type of building, the total measure of the building portions violating the code would be multiplied by the amount of fine on the relevant unit (such as square feet), and the owner will have to pay the resulting amount to legalize the structure.

And last, structures built without Rajuk’s approval and violating the building code will fall under category C.

For this type of building, the owner will face both types of aforementioned fines.

But if an illegal building is found risky during inspection, then the owner will have to repair it in line with the building code.

The draft DAP also suggests formulating a unique rule on building construction and repair, detailing the legal issues and fines invited by illegal structures, the process of imposing the fines, an evaluation committee, and overall management.

Experts positive

“Demolishing a building is not an easy task, and it takes a long time and is a costly process,”said Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansary of the civil engineering department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

“So, if a building is found fit following a detailed engineering assessment, then it could be legalized by paying fines,” he added.“I think this suggestion can be considered.”

He said: “Such multi-storey illegal structures are plenty in Gulshan and Banani, and the process should begin from these areas.”

“But it should be strictly monitored to prevent corruption and hassle for the public,” added Prof Mehedi.

Prof Akter Mahmod, president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, also thinks the plan is a good one, but stressed that the main challenge will be to prevent corruption in Rajuk while maintaining the state agency’s independence.

“Inspection of buildings should be fair, and the illegal and unmatched parts from a structure’s original design must be demolished,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

However, he said: “Once the fining starts, people may become more aware in following the building code and all related constructing rules.”

Dhaka of illegal buildings

According to the draft DAP, Rajuk covers 1,528 square kilometres area of Dhaka and adjacent districts.

A DAP survey says these areas had a total of 1,196,412 structures in 2006, and 2,145,746 in 2016, which means 949,334 structures were built between these 10 years.

Rajuk allows on average, 4,500 construction permits in a year. That means on average, nearly 95,000 structures were built without approval.

Between January 2018 and August 2018, the development authority also conducted a separate survey on 24,106 structures that were above two stories.

According to the survey, 97% of buildings in Rampura, Motijheel, and Khilgaon , 94% in Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Pallabi, and 89% in Dhanmondi were built by twisting the designs approved by Rajuk.

Rajuk conducted another survey after the deadly fire at FR tower in Banani in April last year, which killed more than 20 people and left scores injured. 

According to this survey,  1,818 high-rise buildings — which are over 10 stories— are in areas under Rajuk’s jurisdiction, and 84% of them were constructed by twisting their original designs.

DAP officials say demolition of all illegal structures and buildings constructed on twisted designs will create a humanitarian crisis.

That’s why DAP suggested legalizing such buildings against a proper fine, said DAP Director Ashraful Islam.

He added: “The collected fines will be spent for the development of those areas.”