Enayet Rasul Bhuiyan
THE Jamuna Future Park shopping complex, a construction and engineering marvel of the Jamuna business group or conglomerate, has been shaping up for some years. On full completion and opening its portals to visitors and shoppers, it would be another addition to the pride of the city. The complex was designed to be the biggest of its kind in Asia and also among the few largest in the world. But what was aspired to be a national landmark destined to bring honour and attention to the country, went mercilessly under the orgy of destruction by hammer-wielding demolition squad of the Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakha (RAJUK) on Tuesday last, what may be described as a 'Black Tuesday'.
RAJUK, the official body entrusted with watching over planned construction activities in the capital city, was tearing down three stories of that building as the same were constructed--allegedly-- without its proper authorisation. It had won a legal battle which it interpreted as a signal that the path was cleared for it to start destroying a part of the building on grounds of defying the building code and unauthorised construction.
The code and Rajuk's rules allow construction of buildings up to the 7th floor only. The Jamuna Future Park, a 10-storey building, has three floors more than the permissible limit. Hence, it became the target for the demolition squads. RAJUK's Chairman held a meeting with the media only about a fortnight ago. He seemed to swear hard in that meeting that he would be unique in exercising his powers to absolutely crack down on offenders without the least fear or favour. Only days after the meeting came the assault on the Future Park.
After all, the Jamuna Future Park was not built recently. The construction of it well above the permitted level has been going on not for months but years. RAJUK's inspectors had come and gone to the site in that period. Why did they not order a halt of the unauthorised construction? This non-intervention means that construction of the unauthorised part proceeded within the knowledge of RAJUK authorities. In that case, is RAJUK not also a party to this unregulated project? If so, should it not be under a moral or legal obligation to consider also the offender's plea and come to a settlement on the basis of the merit of the case?
Under the circumstances or considering the importance of the complex as a landmark facility in the city, RAJUK could have explored another way of penalising its builders that would be short of demolition. It could make every move to be seen as really intending to destroy the objectionable part of the building but could hold back in the last minute. Such a step would have served the twin purposes of both sending a clear signal to violators that from now on RAJUK really means business and has drawn the line while also sparing the very costly structure built lavishly with imported raw materials from senseless destruction. RAJUK could hold back from attacking the structure with a call on the Jamuna group that they should pay a sufficiently big sum of money as fine for unauthorised construction. Such actions would cater to all requirements: scaring or deterring potential offenders, showing reasonable flexibility to a major offender and carrying out of justice. But ignoring these sensible options, RAJUK went berserk on the matter shocking everybody with the spectacle of its wanton destruction of precious resources.
As it is, RAJUK should do some soul searching and realise that such very self-righteous actions that it attempted against the Future Park are not in conformity with its previous track record. There are thousands of instances of RAJUK turning a blind eye to worse violations of its regulations in the city. There are many structures standing in the city which had been constructed without any approval of plans whatsoever by RAJUK. Either its officials know about such utter violations but were bribed into ignoring the same or it could be also that they do not know in some cases that such structures exist. In both cases, RAJUK would be guilty of not enforcing its own rules.
There are numerous cases where the building makers obtained part permission from RAJUK to build up to a certain height or in relation to other aspects of design and size or keeping of easements but had actually overstepped. These cases are the result of gross negligence or corruption on the part of RAJUK's inspectors and others. Why should RAJUK authorities start pretending now that all on a sudden they have turned very moral and very strict without taking any responsibility for their own unscrupulous actions or wilful lack of timely actions that could deter such constructions in the first place? Now that these structures have come up largely for its own lack of care or failure to apply rules, what moral right it has to distance itself from its past role and target solely the offenders for the latter to bear all consequences of its reckless and unconscionable moves ?
The appropriate thing for RAJUK to do if it really wants to start off from a fresh slate and make it abundantly clear to all that it is truly resolved to do its work properly from now on is to draw a line like: this far and no further signalling to potential breakers of its rules that henceforth zero tolerance would be practised. As for the past offences, RAJUK may settle for allowing them reprieve on conditions that they would have to pay appropriate fines for the offences committed. But in every case, admitting that section of RAJUK's own men had a role of complicity in these doings, the fines ought to be of a bearable nature with a system of gradual payments. The fine such as in the case of the Jamuna Park will obviously be a big one. But in such cases also a procedure of paying in instalments should be allowed considering everything, particularly RAJUK's own lapses in such matters.
Opting out of such procedures and going for too reckless actions would be very self-defeating. The demolition drive, if continued, would only cause huge losses on two counts : first of all, the ones to do the demolition will have to be paid, ironically, to destroy resources. This would be fruitless payment for not creating resources but to destroy them. Secondly, resources would be destroyed forever from which their investors could get returns and jobs and income received by people. Indeed, such insensitive destroying of resources in a country like Bangladesh where every effort would seem justified to only create and conserve resources, looks like an exercise in madness. It is like cutting the head off in a vain effort to cure a headache. The prudent course for RAJUK to take would be to send very clear or very unambiguous signals to likely offenders in the future that no more of violation of the building code would be allowed and they should be extremely aware of this factor from now. Meanwhile, it should take a rational course of dealing with offences -- already committed -- for which it cannot also absolve itself from responsibilities.
If RAJUK goes clinically and absolutely to enforce its regulations all the way, then perhaps Dhaka would very soon acquire the appearance of a major earthquake-hit city but this one only man-made. If RAJUK goes for a half-hearted drive leaving many and targeting some, then that would invite charges of unfairness or discrimination. Thus, the best course for RAJUK would be considering what is past as past and to ensure that such offences would not be allowed to be repeated in the future. However, this is not to say that RAJUK should be shy of destructive actions in cases where major or large-scale public interests are involved such as in the case of an unauthorised structure blocking the way to building a major road that would significantly ease traffic congestion or add to civic facilities.