Demolition of 300-year old heritage building in Dhaka’s Shankhari Bazar stopped

A 300-year old heritage building in Dhaka's Shankhari Bazar will not be razed to the ground now that the Department of Archaeology has intervened.

Published : 8 Dec 2015, 02:48 PM
Updated : 8 Dec 2015, 05:12 PM

Heritage activists opposing the demolition say this building is one of the few left standing from the Mughal era as it was constructed during the reign of Subahdar Shaista Khan.

Basudeb Sur owns the building, located at holding number 64. Its roof collapsed a few years ago forcing the residents to vacate the building.

It has since remained uninhabited.

Basudeb started demolishing the building on Saturday last and parts of it have already been destroyed.

But the Department of Archaeology stepped in to stop it.

Urban Study Group (USG), which seeks to conserve heritage buildings of archaeological importance, says this is one of the few buildings of the Mughal era left standing in the area -- so it must be preserved.

"Its Mughal era architecture is unique and remains intact. It was perhaps renovated once after a tornado in 1888," says the USG's Chief Executive Taimur Islam.

"For those interested in Mughal-era architecture, this building is a priceless asset."

Islam said it would not be much of a problem to preserve the building, despite its weakened structure. "Its architectural elements can be retained with well-directed conservation efforts."

The USG activists have organised a human-chain protest at Bahadur Shah Park to back their demand to preserve the building.

Taimur Islam told it was illegal to demolish such buildings of heritage value.

'The government has sought to protect such buildings by law, yet many such structures have been demolished in the past," he said.

Ninety-three buildings and four areas were declared as heritage sites by the government through a 2009 gazette notification.

Shankhari Bazar is one of the four areas identified as heritage sites in this notification.

There are 142 buildings in Shankhari Bazar listed for protection and the building on Plot number 64 is one of them.

The Asian Development Bank provides Tk 200 million to preserve the heritage of Shankhari Bazar, so that the unsafe buildings in the area, bearing the splendid Mughal-era architecture, can be renovated and conserved.

"The government should conserve all the unsafe buildings of Shankhari Bazar and pay compensation to the residents if necessary. Unless that is done, none of these heritage buildings in the area can be preserved," said the USG's Taimur Islam.

"These buildings are priceless for preserving a part of our history. And if the government is keen to develop tourism, it needs to preserve this heritage."

Nearly 20,000 Hindus live in Shankhari Bazar.

The area derives its name from the conch shell bangles that Hindu women wear along with vermillion on their forehead as a mark of marriage.

Artisans specialising in making these bangles dominate the area, whose antiquity dates back to more than 400 years.

Demolition of any heritage building in Bangladesh is possible only with special permission from the city development authority RAJUK.

The archaeological department’s Regional Director of Dhaka Division Rakhi Roy told that the demolition of this heritage building has been prevented for the moment.

"We go out of our way to protect these buildings from demolition but we don’t have enough personnel to monitor the condition of the hundreds of heritage buildings," she said.

"Residents of these unsafe buildings prefer to hand over the property to a developer so that a modern apartment is constructed and they can live safely," Roy said.

"So we need a special effort to preserve these buildings if we want to protect our heritage."