Disfiguring history in the name of renovation

July 4, 2015

Government agencies responsible for preservation and protection of heritage sites have distorted and damaged original architectural features of many heritage sites in the name of ‘repairs and maintenance’. Now the metro rail project poses a serious threat to at least eight heritage sites and Rampal coal-fired power plant would harm the eco-system of Sunderbans mangrove forest, a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO.
Protection and preservation of heritage sites remains only in words as nothing has been done so far to protect these sites. During the periods of successive governments, authorities had distorted and disfigure one heritage site after another. If the practice continues, there would hardly be any signs and evidence of our history and past traditions for the future, said archeologists and activists.
During the conservation works at two other World Heritage Sites — Shat Gumbad Mosque in Bagerhat and Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur in Naogaon, had been distorted by the Department of Archaeology.
Besides, authorities have damaged original architectural features of Lalbagh Fort in the capital, Mahasthangarh in Bogra, Puthia Rajbari in Rajshahi, Kantajew Temple in Dinajpur, Panamnagar in Sonargaon, Curzon Hall and SM Hall of Dhaka University, in the name of ‘repairs and maintenance,’ they said.
Department of Archaeology director general Altaf Hossain said they would be more careful about renovation works of sites, ‘in the past, some incidents like distorting heritage sites might have taken place, when we came to know about it, we stopped the renovation works,’ he added.
‘Nothing that can harm any heritage sites would be done,’ he said.
In the third week of June, DoA pulled down a portion of the boundary wall of Lalbagh Fort, a 17th century Mughul palace fortress, to construct a parking lot inside the site causing distortion to the original designs and harming aesthetic views of the structure. They, however, had temporarily stopped the work in the face of protest.
This year, authorities had installed an elevator at Ahsan Manjil in Old Dhaka, a heritage site constructed in 1870s by the Dhaka’s Nawab family.
‘Authorities had replaced original bricks with new ones for renovation of Mahasthangarh in Bogra and Satyapir Bhita of Paharpur in Naogaon district, distorting the original structures. They even put new tiles at the shrine on the site of the Mahasthangarh,’ Jahangirnagar University archeology professor Sufi Mostafizur Rahman said.
‘Authorities had built some pillars of Shat Gumbad Mosque with bricks and cement removing the original stone columns during renovation,’ he added.
Mahasthan or Mahasthangarh consists of the ruins of the ancient city of Pundranagara which goes back to the 4th century BC
and the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur, evidence of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards. Sha? Gumbud Mosque is a 15th century mosque.
There are 448 archaeological sites in the country protected by the DoA, 37 of them in Dhaka district, but many of them in Dhaka were in a bad state.
Taimur Islam, an activist working for protection of archaeological sites and chief executive officer of Urban Study Group, said that Panamnagar, in the suburb of Dhaka, set up by Hindu merchants in the 13th century, has lost its originality and uniqueness as an architectural heritage site in the way of restoration work carried out by the government.
UNESCO had refused to declare Lalbagh Fort as a world heritage site because of improper restoration work, he said.
A good amount of land of heritage sites, including Shankhanidhi House, a site protected by DoA, have been leased out causing serious threat to its existence and now the authorities have installed a lift at Ahsan Manjil distorting original features.
The metro rail project or Mass Rapid Transit threatens the existence of Dhaka Gate, built by the Mughals, Haji Khawaja Shahbaj Mosque and Musa Khan Mosque and affect another five heritage sites, warned a report of consultants appointed by the project office.
Shahbaz Mosque and tomb constructed in 1670s are located beside the mausoleum of three leaders and Dhaka Gate in front of the mausoleum on the Dhaka University campus. Musa Khan Mosque is on the western side of Shahidullah Hall of DU.
The metro rail might hasten the decay of Greek Mausoleum built in 1800s at the TSC of Dhaka University, deterioration of Chamery House now CIRDAP building and Burdwan House in Bangla Academy.
Construction work of MRT may affect the aesthetic view of the National Parliament building, fears the report prepared by Associated Engineers and Consultants Limited that was assigned to survey and identify heritage sites to be affected by the metro line.
Activists protesting at Rampal coal-fired power plant said that the large power plants near Sunderbans, would significantly harm the unique eco-systems of the mangrove.
DoA director general Altaf Hossain said that metro rail project office had promised that there would be no harm to heritage sites. ‘We are in touch with metro rail project authorities over the matter.’

-With New Age input

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