It was learnt that RAJUK surveyor Ashutosh Chakma and building inspector Saddam Hussain visited the spot in Farashganj, but apparently did not find the existence of the Ruplal House there. Saddam Hussain wrote in his inspection report, “There are no historically or aesthetically significant structures within 250 meters of the plot concerned.”

According to sources, a certain Taslima Islam filed an application with RAJUK seeking approval to construct a building on seven decimals of the land that accommodates the Ruplal House.

By ensuring exemplary punishment to those guilty, RAJUK could prove that they have now adopted the 'zero tolerance' policy against corruption and irregularities
Mohammad Fazle Reza, president, Bangladesh Institute of Planners

Ashrafuzzaman, manager of the under-construction building, talked to Prothom Alo on behalf of Taslima. He claimed the land is not a part of Ruplal House and that it is a individually owned property bought in the name of Taslima Islam.

As per the government gazette, there is no legal way to buy or sell the land of Ruplal House. According to the Dhaka Metropolitan Building (Construction, Development, Conservation and Demolition) Rules - 2008 and Bangladesh National Building Code - 2020, the traditional structures and their surrounding 250 meters will be regarded as protected areas.

There is no scope for construction, development, preservation or removal of any installation in the protected areas without the engagement of authorities concerned.

In such a context, a question arose within RAJUK as to how permission was issued to construct a building in the protected area of Ruplal House. Later in January, RAJUK revoked its approval given for the construction of the building, but did not take any action against the officials who concealed the truth during inspection.

Asked why the existence of Ruplal House was not mentioned in the inspection report, RAJUK surveyor Ashutosh Chakma told Prothom Alo that he had written down the actual information, but later the higher authorities made the error.

For setting up a building in the capital city, one initially needs to apply to the RAJUK for land use clearance (LUC) certificate. A RAJUK surveyor then inspects the land or plot physically. The inspection report is submitted to the authority' town planning section for assessing the potential of the proposed building, in line with the detailed area plan (DAP). If everything goes well, a clearance certificate is issued in favour of the proposal.

In the following phase, it requires submitting an application to another section (regional office) of the Rajuk for the approval of building construction. A building inspector responds to the application, inspects the land or plot physically, and submits a report in this regard. RAJUK issues the final clearance only when it receives a satisfactory inspection report.

Urban planners wondered how the Ruplal House issue was kept secret despite such rigorous scrutiny. They blamed corruption of some RAJUK officials for deliberately concealing information.

Initially, an eight-storey building was approved in the Ruplal House area in 2018. Later in 2020, the authorities amended the approval and allowed construction of a six-storey building there.

During the period, Saddam Hossain was employed in the Farashganj area as Rajuk’s building inspector. In a conversation with Prothom Alo, Saddam claimed that he was unaware of Ruplal House being a historic structure. Besides, he was under ‘pressure’ for giving clearance to a new building in the area.

Asked about the action against people involved in concealing information, RAJUK Director (Administration) Muhammad Kamruzzaman told Prothom Alo on Saturday afternoon that he could not immediately comment on the matter without going through the documents.

A RAJUK source, however, said the two officials were served show-cause notices, but the process came to a standstill after their clarification.

According to the national encyclopedia of Bangladesh, Banglapedia, Ruplal House is an imposing early 19th century mansion located in the Farashganj locality of old Dhaka. It was erected jointly by two affluent merchant brothers – namely Ruplal Das and Raghunath Das. They purchased an old building from Aratun, an Armenian tycoon, in 1840 and had it pulled down. Later, the Ruplal House was built on the site at a huge cost, according to the design of an architect of the Martin Company of Calcutta.

Divided into two unequal blocks in slightly different styles, it is a two-storeyed edifice. Its ground plan follows the shape of the letter 'E'.

The two blocks include, in two storeys, over fifty rooms of various sizes. In 1888, a ball was arranged at the Ruplal House, in honour of Lord Dufferin, the viceroy of India, during his visit to Dhaka.

On Friday, the main building of Ruplal House was seen dilapidated with the walls collapsing at different spots. There were spice, onions and garlic stored in some of the inner rooms. One of the three parts of the building was carrying a signboard -- Ruplal House -- at its forefront while the other two parts were marked as Jamal House and Nurjahan House.

The under-construction building is located just in front of Ruplal House. The construction work was completely done at the ground floor while a steel frame was set up on the first floor.

Mohammad Fazle Reza, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, told Prothom Alo that tracing out the involved individuals was a must.

“By ensuring exemplary punishment to those guilty, RAJUK could prove that they have now adopted the 'zero tolerance' policy against corruption and irregularities. Until it is done, people will think that corruption is the final word at all levels of RAJUK,” he said.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Misbahul Haque

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