Lack of sincerity of the government has put the historic Bhawal Raja’s residence at Nalgola, Imamganj near Mitford Hospital in Old Dhaka on the verge of destruction.
While visiting the area, the Dhaka Tribune found that the entire area was gradually being damaged and demolished by the people who had taken lease of the land for commercial purposes from the Court of Wards under the Land Ministry on Bhawal Raj Estate.
The house is yet to be included in the lists of the Department of Archaeology and the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) prepared in 2009.
Asked why it was not enlisted, Director General of the Department of Archaeology Shirin Akhter said: “Actually, I have no idea that there is a historic building. We will soon send a team to verify the place whether it should be protected or not in line with the Antiquity Act.”
On July 28, architect Taimur Islam, the CEO of Urban Study Group, filed a general diary with Chawkbazar police station against one of the lessees Alauddin Sarkar to stop demolition of the house.
He mentioned that as the protected heritage list was not updated yet, any kind of construction on this 100-year-old historic residence would be a clear violation of the interim period of a Supreme Court order.
The order issued in October 2012 directed the government – represented by the secretaries of Housing and Public Works Ministry and Cultural Affairs Ministry, and Rajuk – to take all necessary steps for convening meeting of the Urban Development Committee for preparing a modified or amended list of heritage buildings and structures of the country within three months.
However, no modified list is published by the government.
The order came when the government had failed to publish the modified list since 2008. The order stated: “It is not understood why a committee already formed in 2008 for modifying and altering the existing heritage property list could not finalise the modified list.”
The court also questioned why the committee had been dysfunctional for four years. “This inaction of the committee is giving opportunities to the vested quarters to destroy the national heritage properties of the country,” it said.
“As the updated list is still not published, there are many loopholes, for which, people may destroy such establishments which have historic, aesthetic, architectural, economic and social values,” Taimur told the Dhaka Tribune.
Visiting the spot situated just beside the Buriganga River, it was found that the main gate could not be recognised as the walls were reconstructed.
Moreover, a number of small and big tin-shed houses, shops and storage rooms were seen on the premises, constructed by the lessee. The compound also houses recycling factories.
Though some parts of the walls are damaged, still there are signs of some rickety steel columns, huge wooden doors, marble tiles and well-curved arches to bear the testimony of the history.
From the mid-17th century to the early 19th century, the Bhawal kings of Gazipur owned 30,421 acres of land, an army of elephants, horses and zoos, fleets of cars and scores of palaces.
The residence at Nalgola is situated on around one acre land. The government in 2011 leased the place to more than 70 people in three different parts. Alauddin alone got 20 decimal area which include a two-storey building and another one-storey one. The lease agreement has been renewed every year.
The two-storey building was the grand residence of Bhawal Raja, said Taimur, while the other was his restroom.
Taimur alleged that Alauddin had already destroyed the one-storey structure. “When I learnt that he is going to demolish the other building, I filed the general diary to stop the demolition work.”
Alauddin denies the allegation claiming that he did not knock down the one-storey building rather it just fell down itself.
“I just removed the old houses which were built there upon permission of the government. I got lease of about 20 decimal area for commercial purpose. I am not going to demolish any of the buildings as per the agreement with the government” he claimed.
The Court of Wards leased out the 0.20 acre land with eight conditions that include no construction of new buildings and no demolition or change in the main structure.
“I have to pay Tk4 lakh for 0.20 acre land but actually I got almost 0.10 acre since the rest of the land is covered by the two-storey building. So if I want to pay the amount, I need to make more profits from my business,” Alaudding told Dhaka Tribune.
Sub-Inspector Mahbubur Rahman of Chawkbazar police station said: “In this situation, the police are instructed to stop all kind of construction in the area. We will call both parties of the general diary soon to discuss the matter.”
Taimur said: “It seems that the government has no headache about the historic places and structures. Such reluctance influences the unscrupulous people to destroy these sites.”
People residing around the place also blame the government for the sorry state of the structure.