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The tower came down crumbling

IT HAD to come down crumbling and it did, in furtherance of the rule of law. The symbol of moneyed arrogance, the 15-storey BGMEA Building, which had stood tall for a decade and a half, has been pulled down after prolonged legal wrangles. The opening in the fence along Hatirjheel that led to the building has now recently been closed.

New Age on its front page on October 2, 2010 published a single-column report of 825 words, headlined ‘No plan to demolish unauthorised BGMEA Building soon’, by Ershad Kamol, who was then a correspondent working with the newspaper. Other reports that went around it had a better display. The correspondent might have wished more, column-wise, as all correspondents usually do.

The news began: ‘The government has no plans to immediately demolish the unauthorised BGMEA Building, obstructing the ongoing city beautification work surrounding the Hatirjheel-Begunbari lake, said the state minister for housing and public works.’

The state minister for housing and public works at hand was Abdul Mannan Khan, who told New Age that ‘he would wait and see whether or not the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association leaders voluntarily demolish the building.’

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association built its building, the report read, without caring to take approval from Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, the agency responsible for the development of the capital city.

The Rajuk chair readily referred to the political will that would require to pull down the building. He said that it was a matter of political decision whether or not to dismantle the unauthorised BGMEA building. ‘Rajuk will demolish the “illegal” structure only after it gets the green signal from the government.’

The report also quoted, in indirect narration, the then vice-president of the apparel exporters’ association, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, as telling New Age that ‘the incumbent government can demolish the building only if it considered the lake to be more important than BGMEA.’ The statement reeked, and still reeks, of moneyed arrogance.

A day after, on October 3, the High Court Division in a rule issued suo moto asked the government to explain why it would not be directed to demolish the 16-storey BGMEA building erected on Hatirjheel Lake. New Age published the report on its front page on October 4, headlined ‘HC asks govt why BGMEA bldg not demolished’, written by a ‘staff correspondent’, probably the court reporter.

The report said that the housing and public works ministry and Rajuk had also been asked to explain why punitive action would not be taken against the officials concerned responsible for the construction of the building without Rajuk approval.

The court in the rule, No 19 of 2010 described as ‘the State versus Government of Bangladesh and others’, named the New Age report, by naming the newspaper and the headline, without giving the publication date, as the basis of the rule. It beats logic why the October 4, 2010 report of New Age counted 16 storeys of the building when the October 2 New Age report and the court’s rule described the building as having 15 storeys.

The October 4, 2010 report also quoted the state minister for housing and public works as saying, ‘If we see that the building is obstructing the project, we will fix the problem through consultations with the BGMEA leaders.’

The project that the minister of state talked about was a Tk 14 billion venture of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakka, planned long ago, to restore the character to the canal and conserve the remnants of Hatirjheel and Begunbari lakes, that was divided by the Maghbazar–Tejgaon section of the Tongi Diversion Road.

The project envisaged the construction of a circular road network around the two lakes, once part of a long canal, which had been in the past connected to rivers that flow around Dhaka.

The lakefront of Hatirjheel, a slum area around the lake turned into a recreational area finally at the cost of Tk 19.17 billion, was opened to the public on January 2, 2013. The National Economic Council approved the project in October 2007 for a 2010 June completion deadline. But the work began in December 2008 and the deadline was later extended by a year a half.

The apparel traders’ association in 1998 selected the site by the Sonargaon Hotel for the building. The association bought the land from the Export Promotion Bureau for a throwaway price of about Tk 51.7 million with ‘government approval’. A tin-shed structure, buttressed by bamboos, had been at the place for a few days. A sign fixed to the structure facing the road listed the BGMEA as the owner of the project, the name of the project and the name of the contractor.

The prime minister of the day, Sheikh Hasina, laid the foundation stone of the building on November 28, 1998. The humble tin-shed started rising its head into a multi-storey structure, in violation of the Wetland Conservation Act 2000 and the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995. Khaleda Zia inaugurated the complex on October 8, 2006 when she was the prime minister.

Two plaques, one saying ‘BGMEA Complex, foundation stone laid by Sheikh Hasina, Hon’ble Prime Minister, Govt. of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 28 November, 1998’, both in Bangla, with the Bengali date of 14 Agrahayan, 1405, and English, and the other saying ‘BGMEA Complex, inaugurated by Begum Khaleda Zia, Hon’ble Prime Miniser, Govt. of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 08 October, 2006’, again both in Bangla, with the Bengali date of 23 Ashwin, 1413, and English, had decorated the facade of the ground floor of the building before the building was dismantled.

Having faced criticism, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, however, in 2007, when the military-backed caretaker government was in office, fined the association a nominal penalty of Tk 1.25 million for erecting the structure without having obtained the approval of Rajuk.

The High Court on April 3, 2011 declared the building illegal and ordered the association to demolish the building in 90 days, noting that it was built on a piece of land acquired through forgery and dirt-filled illegally.

The Appellate Division on April 5, 2011 stayed for six weeks the High Court order and the stay was later extended.

The High Court in its full verdict on March 19, 2013, ordered relevant authorities to demolish the building in three months. The association filed a leave to appeal with the Appellate Division on May 21, 2013 and the appeal was dismissed on June 2, 2016. The Appellate Division upheld the High Court verdict and asked the association to pull down the building in 90 days and bear the cost.

After a series of proceedings, the Appellate Division on April 2, 2018 gave the association one more year to pull down the building on an undertaking that the association would seek no further time. The association had so far been unwilling to pull down the structure. As the deadline expired by April 2, 2019, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha sealed the building, floor by floor, on April 16, 2019.

The minister for housing and public works inaugurated the demolition of the building, eight months after the building had been sealed, in January 2020. The demotion work, which was hampered by the outbreak of Covid-19, almost ended few months ago and the opening in the fence leading to the demolition site has recently been closed.

It is not that New Age alone or first started reporting on the illegality of the BGMEA building. The issue had been in discussion and in media reports since 2007, soon after the building had been inaugurated the year before. Almost all responsible newspapers reported on the issue. Even New Age had reported on the issue much before the court picked up the 2010 October news to issue the rule. And, other reporters or correspondents, even in New Age, reported and wrote on the issue.

But this remains an example what the media can do in furthering the rule of law. All responsible media houses, newspapers and television channels, batted together for the law and against the illegality of moneyed arrogance of the apparel traders’ association. And, the rule of law is upheld, at least in the case at hand. There were suggestions from many quarters, including the association, that the government should turn the building into a hotel or a hospital, by improving on the areas that surrounded the building and connecting the building to the road with a bridge. What many then failed to understand that the tower needed to come down, crumbling. It so, finally, did.


Akkas, Abu Jar M (2022 Dec. 16). The tower came down crumbling. New Age p8


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