Dhaka's Mughal heritage sites must be conserved16 September 2022 Editorial Desk
The relevant authorities in Bangladesh have always failed to give due attention to preserving the country's historical sites. Sometimes, people seem to treat these places of historical importance as insignificant and go for their demolition. This neglect reflects our lack of concern as a nation for knowledge in general and history in particular.
Sadly, this is what was going on with the Mughal era structure Bara Katra in Old Dhaka a few days ago as the owner of the Holding-15, where Bara Katra is situated, demolished a section of the historical site for constructing a multi-storied building. But the fact is, the High Court, in 2018, issued a directive ordering authorities to stop changing and demolishing 2,200 British-era buildings named USG's list of heritage sites in Old Dhaka. But Bara Katra is at the second position of Rajdhani Unnyon Kartripakkho's list of historical sites that call for conservation.
Bara Katra along with Chhoto Katra is already on the verge of extinction due to rampant encroachment as government's relevant authorities do not show seriousness to protect them. Earlier in this year, Neelam Ghar and other heritage sites were torn down. As soon as the news of demolition of a section of Bara Katra came to the notice of the conservation organisation, Urban Study Group (USG) as well as the media, the owner of the Holding-15 pledged not to tear down the structure any further.
On Wednesday, DSCC Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh visited the site and assured people of taking initiative to renovate the historic Katras. In a welcome move, the Dhaka South City Corporation has sealed the boundaries by prohibiting the demolition of adjacent structures in the Bara Katra area. But this move should have been taken much earlier to protect the site as it was originally used to be. Encouraging words sound nice but deeds are hardly undertaken.
According to history, Bara Katra was built by Mir Abul Qasim, the diwan (chief revenue official) of Mughal Prince Shah Shuja. Within a gap of around one and half years, Subahdar Shaista Khan constructed Chhoto Katra in the Swarighat area of Chawkbazar. It is now urgent that these two heritage structures must be vested in the government - either in the district administration or in the city corporation. The Archeology Department or Public Works Department can also take over the site. If these structures are not kept under constant watch, one day the history of the relevant Mughal period will be only on pages of history books, and not in heritage sites as witnesses of time.
Turning the heritage sites into places of tourist attraction can also be a way of conserving the sites. We expect the DSCC will keep its word by developing the heritage sites as traditional tourist centres.