"95 percent buildings in Dhaka made deviation from rules"

 Muktobak Report    ২৪ জানুয়ারি ২০২০, শুক্রবার, ১০:১৫    দেশ

 The country’s top apparel trade body Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, widely known as BGMEA, built its headquarters right in the middle of Hatirjheel canal blocking water flow in the capital Dhaka and without giving a damn to the approval from the city development authorities – Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkah, aka Rajuk. It was standing tall as a symbol of illegality and of audacity of a group of moneyed people for the past 13 years. After a long legal battle, the country’s apex court ordered demolition of the 16-storey building. Then a New Age reporter, Abu Taib Ahmed, investigated the illegality of the building in 2009. He came up with first ever news report revealing that the BGMEA erected the building illegally defying several RAJUK notices. Abu Taib Ahmed talked at length about his investigation with Muktobak recently.

Muktobak: How did you know that the BGMEA building was illegal? 

Abu Taib Ahmed: Look, I think, that the BGMEA building was erected illegally was known to all. Major media outlets came up with news stories saying the BGMEA building was constructed illegally on a Dhaka canal and green activists were registering their protests ever since its foundation was laid by the then prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in 1998. But the protests from the green groups got strengthened once the building was inaugurated by the then prime minister, Khaleda Zia, in 2006. Even many newspapers carried out reports criticizing Khaleda Zia for inaugurating the “illegal” building. But none of the media outlets came up with news stories ascertaining whether the BGMEA building gets any sorts of approval from the capital development authorities – Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha. Some of the media outlets would use terms like “allegedly illegal building” or some would put the word “illegal” under quotation mark.

It was 7-8 months since I had joined New Age, from The Bangladesh Today, with a responsibility to look after city development affairs (City Beat in journalistic term) although I was a political reporter from the very beginning of my journalistic career. One day, Kabir bhai, as call Mr. Nurul Kabir, the editor, asked me to find out the legal status of the BGMEA building. I think it would in the middle of 2009. His instruction was specific. He asked me to find out whether or not the BGMEA got any approval from the RAJUK. Many reports were published on this issue, but what I did is that my story on the BGMEA building was the first-ever of its kind which gave us official evidence of BGMEA Bhaban being illegal.

Muktobak: Tell us something about your investigation? 

Abu Taib Ahmed: As it was my first major assignment directly from my editor and as I was a newcomer in the city beat, I was obviously a bit nervous at the beginning. I was worried about whether I would really be able to make it. Then I started visiting the RAJUK office every day and trying to develop good relations with the officials of the particular sections to unearth the legal status of the building. At the beginning, I was a bit hopeless knowing that as the RAJUK issued no approval for the building it has no official evidence which can prove that the building was illegal except a set of comment from the RAJUK chairman. Then I tried to find out whether the BGMEA at all filed any application seeking the RAJUK approval and discovered that, yes, it had filed an application seeking approval in January of 2003, but about five years after it had laid the foundation of the building. By that time, the construction work of the building had almost been completed. As I obtained the copy of the BGMEA application, I was trying to figure out, what the official response to the application was. Then I came to know that the RAJUK held a meeting in July of 2004, about one and half a years after receiving the application, with the participation of representatives from Bangladesh Railway, Dhaka WASA, Department of Environment, Water Development Board, Dhaka City Corporation, Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Dhaka Transport Coordination Board to take a decision on whether the area would be allowed for commercial purpose. RAJUK officials told me that there must have been meeting minutes of that meeting. At this stage, I started thinking like “Okay I’m gonna make it.” I tried frantically to obtain a copy of the meeting minuets. I had even offered some of the RAJUK officials certain amount to help me. However, I gave them gifts like calendars, note book and pen to win their heart. But even on the part of the RAJUK officials, it was tough to find a file of five years ago, particularly in the office like RAJUK where hundreds of files pile up in a single day. And after about two months of insistence, I obtained the copy of desired meeting minutes as well as several notices issued to the BGMEA afterwards. According to the meeting decision, Rajuk on September 22, 2004 issued a notice addressed to the BGMEA secretary, Fasihur Rahman, asking the apparel trade organisation to suspend the construction work unless the BUET completes its survey. Even after that the BGMEA went ahead with the construction of the complex. The RAJUK on January 16 issued another notice to the BGMEA authorities, warning them that it would take legal actions against the BGMEA. It was quite surprising to know that nothing could stop the BGMEA from erecting the building on wetland and the construction was completed in 2006.

The most interesting part of my investigation was that the RAJUK had almost given the approval for the building constructed right in the middle of a lake in the capital. Failing to contain the BGMEA, the RAJUK at one of its general meetings on July 2 in 2006 had decided that it would give the approval, should the BGMEA pay fees and sufficient compensation for constructing the complex even before the approval, should the building’s illegal portion be demolished, and had the BGMEA funded construction of a beautiful bridge of sufficient width over the lake and approach road of the bridge. The interesting thing here is that the BGMEA constructed the building even going beyond its own design which it submitted to the RAJUK for getting the approval. You can call it violation of rules, one after violation. I think the RAJUK could not do so due to the continuous pressures from the green groups.

 Muktobak: Did you receive assistance from your colleagues in the office? Or did you face any obstacles from them?

Abu Taib Ahmed: Although I was a newcomer in New Age, I received tremendous support from my colleagues and bosses. When I was a bit hopeless in finding any clues to obtain the documents, my colleague Khadimul Islam gave me the courage and necessary guidelines as to how to obtain the documents. It’s he who asked me to offer the RAJUK officials certain amount, saying: “Offer the officials bribe and the office will provide you with the bribe money.” It gave me a huge stimulus at that stage.   

 Muktobak: What was the reaction around after publication of your report?

Abu Taib Ahmed: Look, the English-language daily does not have that much readership in Bangladesh in the first place. Again, it (New Age) was relatively a new daily at that point in time. Truly, I did not get much reaction from outside the house the way the report would have got if it is published in a Bengali-language daily or in the most-circulated English-language daily. Yes, I received thanks from my colleagues and from some of the RAJUK officials.

Muktobak: After a long time, your work met with the success as the building is being razed down, what is your feeling?

Abu Taib Ahmed: Well, in my two-year stint in the city beat, I have authored about 1,000 reports, most describing the irregularities in the city developments. I had reportage on how the RAJUK breached its own rule to give approval to the influential people including the BGMEA and how the RAJUK manipulated the city’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP). It’s the RAJUK which breached the DAP which was prepared spending millions of Taka, only to give the BGMEA the approval for constructing its university (BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology) in Uttara. RAJUK officials told me on record that as much as 95 per cent buildings in Dhaka made deviation from rules. I mean they are constructed illegally going beyond its design. I wrote several stories on the BGMEA building. Yes, it is indeed a good feeling that the illegal BGMEA building is being razed down finally and I have a little bit contribution to it. The BGMEA building was standing tall as a symbol of illegality and as a symbol of audacity of a group of moneyed men. It (demolishing of the building) will work as a deterrent to attempts by others to construct such illegal building without giving a damn to the law of the land.      

 Muktobak: Do you have any advice for the investigative reporters?

Abu Taib Ahmed: I had spent several months for this investigative report. I would say if a reporter can stick to its goal insistently and patiently, he or she would succeed at the end of the day. My suggestion would be for a reporter is: “Develop good relations with low-profile officers, even with the peon (office assistant) to get access to the official documents.”  

 Muktobak: Thank you.

 Abu Taib Ahmed: Thank you.



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