Surely, development is more than the building of new structures while tearing down those with history and character? Yet, that is exactly what we continue to witness happening in Bangladesh, and most noticeably in Old Dhaka. Most recently, a section of the ancient Boro Katra, comprising three chambers of the historic structure, has been all but torn down. But this is apparently no news, even to the authorities concerned.
This daily reported on the rampant encroachment on ancient structures in Old Dhaka earlier this year, while the conservation organisation Urban Study Group (USG) alerted police in July of how parts of Boro Katra were being demolished. Yet, the historically significant site is being turned into rubble by its “owner,” Ali Hossain of Holding 15, Boro Katra Lane.
Alarmingly, this is taking place despite a High Court directive in 2018 ordering the authorities to “stop changing, modifying and demolishing 2,200 British-era buildings named in the USG’s list of heritage sites in Old Dhaka.” Boro Katra is also at the second position on Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha’s (Rajuk) list of historical buildings that require conservation. And, as recently as in 2020, Rajuk declared Boro Katra and Chhoto Katra as “Traditional Special Establishments.”
Owner Ali Hossain’s claim that the structure was being demolished after the city corporation deemed it risky and after permission was obtained from Rajuk to construct a multi-storey building on the site. This was found to be untrue when this newspaper contacted the director of Rajuk Zone 5, who denied providing such a permission.
However, question remains as to why the authorities could not stop Ali Hossain from demolishing this historical site, despite having been informed of the threat it was in. Given that the responsibility of conserving such sites falls largely on the Department of Archaeology, their response has been lukewarm at best, limited only to warning the owner months ago and never following up on the state of the structure again. Now, they have said they will “inspect the relevant papers.” It is disappointing to see how neglectful the police and the Department of Archaeology have been regarding their duty to protect Boro Katra and Chhoto Katra.
Just last month, we voiced our astonishment in this column when a century-old two-storey structure in Bangla Bazar was being demolished, only a month after the same happened to Neelam Ghar. These, too, have been done in violation of the law and only for the benefit of the owners who usually have the backing of local political heavyweights.
Dhaka has a glorious past just as any ancient city, and it is most prominently embodied by its architecture. We urge the government to ensure that the authorities tasked with protecting our heritage are actually doing their job. We must not hand over our future generations a city that has lost its ornamented past in its chase for futile development.