Buildings collapse, tilt; yet RAJUK sits idle

Photo shows an excavator in action after a building tilts in Kamrangichar, Dhaka.
Prothom Alo file photo

As many as 25 people died after a five-storey building had collapsed in June, 2010, in the Begunbari area of Tejgaon in the capital.

It was learnt later that the building was constructed on soft land without any piling.

A NOC for using the land is required before constructing a building in the capital. And then approval for construction is needed from the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK). An occupancy certificate is also needed to live in that building at the end of the construction.

After the building collapsed at Begunbari of Tejgaon in the capital, RAJUK said that the building did not have any approval and the building construction codes were not followed in the construction.

There were at least 14 incidents of building collapse and tilting in the last 12 years. As many as 40 people were killed and more than hundred were injured in these incidents. In most of these cases, it was learnt later that the building did not have permission or the building was constructed without following the codes of construction.

Although such incidents have become regular phenomenon in a densely populated city like Dhaka, the RAJUK has not taken any visible initiative to force people to follow the rules. Even the RAJUK does not know the exact number of unapproved buildings in the area under its jurisdiction.

Besides, assessment of risk of buildings in Dhaka also falls under the jurisdiction of RAJUK. However, the government agency is yet to make a list of risky buildings.

This issue came to the fore again after 24 people were killed in an explosion in a building in Gulistan’s Siddique Bazar area. The seven-storey building had an approval for a five-storey building, police claimed based on assumption after the incident. RAJUK has not yet found the building-related documents, including the main design of the building.

Speaking regarding the risks of building collapse in Dhaka, RAJUK chairman Anisur Rahman told Prothom Alo that, “We regularly conduct drives to evict buildings which were constructed violating the rules. Actions have been taken regarding the buildings constructed violating the code of construction."

He further said, “We have formed some eight committees in total to figure out the number of buildings using the basements as shops.”

In every megacity, there is a regulatory body to ensure a well-planned city. RAJUK is also an agency like that. According to data given on the agency’s website, at first an organisation named Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) was formed in 1956 with the special power of extension and development of Dhaka and its adjacent area.

This organisation was converted into the RAJUK in 1987. RAJUK’s area of jurisdiction was extended to 590 square km, including Savar, Keraniganj and other areas. The DIT developed a mega plan for Dhaka for the first time in 1959. The Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan was developed in 1995. And the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) was developed in 2010.

According to RAJUK’s annual financial report on 2021-22 fiscal, "RAJUK is the highest planning organisation to ensure a healthy and livable capital." However, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the UK, Dhaka is ranked 166th among 172 countries in the index of livable cities in 2022.

The number of collapsed building

None of the government agencies have any account of incidents of collapsed buildings. Analysing different media reports from 2010 to 2022, Prothom Alo has found at least 14 incidents of collapsed building.

For instance, an illegally constructed building collapsed on 15 May 2015 in Rampura’s Hazipara area. 12 were killed in the incident. Local Jubo League leader Moniruzzaman Chowdhury was the owner of the house.

A case was filed against Moniruzzaman after the incident. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) also arrested him. However he was released on bail a few days later, said the locals.

Most of the people who died in this incident were poor. However, they didn’t get any compensation. It is not possible for them to proceed with the case either.

No one died after a six-storey building tilted in Old Dhaka’s Banshal in 2015, a seven-storey building in Dhaka’s Jatrabari in 2015, a four-storey building on Tajmahal Road in Mohamamdpur in 2016, a five-storey building in Lalbagh in 2018, and a five-storey building tilted in Kamrangirchar in 2019. However, a man and his son died after a portion of a three-storey building collapsed in Patuatuli area on 17 July 2019.

A five-storey building tilted in South Rasulpur area of Kamrangirchar on 25 January 2021; a three-storey building collapsed into an adjacent ditch in Keraniganj’s Charail area on 19 February 2021; a six-storey building tilted in Old Dhaka’s Sutrapur on 19 August 2021 and a portion of a five-storey building tilted in Old Dhaka’s Nazirabazar on 13 December 2021.

According to a survey of RAJUK’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP), there are about 2.15 million establishments under the agency’s jurisdiction that falls in two Dhaka city corporations, Keraniganj, Savar upazila, and parts of Narayanganj and Gazipur. The agency, however, does not have the list of risky building in its jurisdiction.

Executive director of Institute for Planning and Development, an urban research and policy analysing body, professor Adil Mohammed Khan observed the RAJUK has failed to carry out its duty.

He told Prothom Alo the main responsibility of RAJUK is the planning and the control of development and the agency has failed in both cases. Buildings are constructed defying laws and that is not being monitored, and corruption is one of the big reasons behind it. A section of RAJUK officials and employees are risking the lives of people for their personal gain, he added.

People at risk

With the expansion of Dhaka and the rise in buildings in the capital, there has always been question whether the RAJUK has the monitoring capacity. According RAJUK officials, the agency lacks manpower. Besides, RAJUK allegedly uses a big portion of its manpower and capacity for building plots and flats instead of exercising the controlling power.

In the meantime, building owners are renting out apartments while tenants are paying high rent but don’t know whether the building is constructed with faulty design and legally.

Abdus Sattar resides at an apartment of a five-year-old 10-storey building in the capital’s Paikpara area. He told Prothom Alo the development left the construction of basement and garage incomplete.

Once, the building had an illegal gas connection, which a mobile court cut off, he said adding, it is not possible for a tenant to verify whether the building is constructed according to its design and the gas connection is still risky or not.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashis Basu and Hasanul Banna