Things that make you to Think
In a historic neighbourhood so old that the mind is tricked into seeing it in sepia, workmen are busy reducing an architectural gem to rubble.
Because Kalicharan Saha Road was not listed as a protected heritage site by Rajuk in 2009, holding number 20 is being demolished by its current owner.
A hollow structure with two of its walls torn down now stands where once a building of exquisite charm stood.
The venerable street is part of Gendaria’s Kapuria Nagar, an Old Dhaka neighbourhood littered with bits of history captured in brick and mortar.
But Number 20’s current owners consider the old structure an underperforming asset. They want to construct a high-rise in its place.
“The building has no historic or heritage value,” Uttam Saha, one of the owners, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We have been living here for about 35 years. My father Nanda Lal Saha was the owner of this building. I do not know how my father came to own the building. Now my brother Mithu Kumar Saha and I both own it,” Uttam said.
Originally established during the Mughal period when the purveyors of Bengal’s fabled muslin ruled the world of commerce, Kapuria Nagar’s decline has been slow but steady, despite a brief renaissance in the 19th century.
The revival saw Mughal-era buildings renovated, redeveloped, and sometimes remodelled, often in the neo-classical style.
The new architectural order stamped
on it remains today as a mark of the British era, but many facades retain Mughal elements, recalling the area’s four centuries of history.
Despite this, the Archaeological Department disagrees that Number 20 should be counted as a heritage property.
“Just because a building is old does not mean that it should be considered a heritage property meriting protection by the state,” the department’s regional director in Dhaka, Rakhi Roy, said.
The Urban Study Group’s (USG) Taimur Islam disagrees: “Number 20 is the most significant building in a group of historic buildings in Kapuria Nagar.
“Any building older than a hundred years is, without a doubt, a historic building. Most buildings in this neighbourhood were originally built during the Mughal period. Until recently, enough buildings had survived to bear testimony to the Mughal era.”
But over the last four years, Kapuria Nagar has become the target of real estate developers.
There are barely any historic buildings left on Kalicharan Saha Road.
“Already numbers 9, 12 and 34 Kalicharan Saha Road have been demolished. All of those buildings had footprints in the Mughal era,” Taimur said.
He favours protecting the entire neighbourhood.
“At the end of the Mughal period, with the fall of muslin under British rule, Kapuria Nagar went into decline like most neighbourhoods in the city.
“But some of the interiors even today bear testimony to the splendour of Mughal times,” he added.
Located on the intersection of Dholai Canal and the Buriganga River, the neighbourhood is also significant because it effectively wraps around the sprawling site of the Mill Barracks – one of the most important historic sites in Old Dhaka.
Uttam claimed that permission to demolish the original structure at Number 20 had been taken from the Archaeological Department, Rajuk and Dhaka South City Corporation.
However, there was no Rajuk permission signboard or any other indication of official sanction for the demolition visible on the premises.
Rajuk officials told the Dhaka Tribune that failing to display a Rajuk permission signboard at a demolition site probably indicated that the required authorisation had not been taken.
Nevertheless, no Rajuk official was able to provide specific information about the demolition authorisation for the structure.
Without advocacy from the Architectural Department and Rajuk, heritage properties do not stand a chance of survival.
Number 20 will soon be no more than an old photograph.
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