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Delaying the inevitable

  • Published at 12:33 am April 25th, 2019
FR Tower should be a warning to us all
File photo: FR Tower should be a warning to us all Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

How will we prevent another disaster from taking place?

Within hours of the devastating fire in Paris’s Norte Dame, a billion dollars has been pledged by individuals and institutions for the restoration of the iconic cathedral. This is happening at a time when the economic woes plaguing France have increased to such an extent that the famous weekend protests of the Yellow Vest movement pale in comparison. 

A combination of religious sentiment and an urge to restore the tourist attraction has led to President Emmanuel Macron promising the completion of the work within five years. The cause of the fire that burned the wooden part of the structure may not be known for some time. It also brought down the famous and much-photographed spire. Some of the famous artefacts have been lost for good. Others, including the grand organ, are being transferred to the Louvre till reconstruction is completed. 

Compare this reaction to that received by the recent devastation of FR Tower. Media reports show that the bulk of the 195,000 plus buildings surveyed by Rajuk in the first six months of 2018 have violated the existing building codes of the country. 131,583 buildings are inhabited by people who are unknowingly risking their lives. 

Still, there is no action forthcoming. Nothing too has emerged about the 6,024 buildings constructed between 1997-2013, a number submitted to the court for violating the code of construction. Another 3,342 under-construction buildings were identified as having been guilty of code violations as well. Most of these buildings don’t have clearance from the Department of Environment either.

Yet, both the public works minister and the mayor of Dhaka North City have asked for more surveys to prevent another disaster, similar to the FR Tower, from taking place. These surveys are unlikely to reveal much and will probably find more violations. The question, rather, should be, what action will be taken to redress the violations. 

The minister has vowed zero tolerance, the latest buzzword doing the rounds. Whether his ministry has the wherewithal to actually tear down these structures is doubtful, to say the least. It doesn’t take a survey to identify the glaring scene of buildings literally propping each other up. It is a matter of concern worse than the river encroachment issue. The clean-up is nothing new, and doesn’t prevent delinquents from returning to build afresh after the bulldozers have done their work.

There are two factors to be considered. The first relates to code violations that make the buildings unsafe; the second relates to the adequate placement of fire extinguishing systems. If both are implemented relentlessly, we shall have a major traffic snarl adding to the chaos that building destruction will bring with it. 

The erroneous commercialization of what used to be residential areas can’t be retracted. Courts have been lenient to the commercial construction in such areas, providing stay orders for their time-fixed relocation.

This includes the repeated extension of the BGMEA headquarters that is an eye-sore to the marvellous Hatirjheel project. A similar approach for business relocation will have to be agreed on as the dismantling of buildings takes place. In-between, the only thing left to do is to cross one’s fingers and hope for the best.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.