At least four letters issued by the RAJUK (Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha) have been found, regarding the legality of FR Tower in Banani, Dhaka where 26 people were killed and 70 injured in a deadly fire on 28 March.
In two of the four letters issued between 2006 and 2014, the multi-storey commercial building was declared safe while in the other two, it was declared unsafe.
The government authority had reportedly come up with these contradictory reports over two bank loan applications that were made by the owner of the land and the construction company along with the buyer of a part of the building, Quasem Drycells Ltd.
As per the official documents, Quasem Drycells and Rupayan Housing Estate Ltd sought loans from a financing institution in January 2006. This required RAJUK clearance, verifying that the structure was legal. In February, after receiving the RAJUK approval and by mortgaging floors 20, 21 and 22 of the building, the two companies were granted Tk 360 million in loans.
However, in 2007 when owner of the land, Faruque, sought an NOC letter from RAJUK for a loan by mortgaging the sixth floor, RAJUK told him in September that there was no scope for the loan as four more floors had been built on top of the 18-storey building in violation of the rules.
Again, in 2013, the director of the development control branch of RAJUK sent a letter to its regional office saying, "It has been observed that a 23-storey commercial design has been approved by the building construction committee [of RAJUK]".
Once again in 2014, RAJUK said in a letter that according to the development control branch, there was no scope to consider Quasem Drycells' application for registration of the floors 21, 22 and 23 which meant these were illegal.
Owner of the land SMHI Faruque bought plot no. 32 plot on the Kamal Ataturk Avenue in 1989 in a RAJUK auction. He received RAJUK's approval to build an 18-storey building in 1996 and began setting up the foundation with his own money. Later, in April 2013, he appointed Rupayan Housing Estate Ltd. to construct the building signing a contract. The managing director of Rupayan, LA Mukul, proposed to increase floors from 18 to 23 and signed a supplementary contract in July that year.
According to clause 6 of the contract, Rupayan would be responsible to obtain approval from RAJUK and other institutions for the extended five floors and the owner would have no liability about this.
Construction of the 23-storey building was completed in 2007. The construction company sold floors 21, 22, and 23 to Quasem Drycells and 45 per cent of the building was handed over to the landowner according to the contract.
"Such irregularities could not take place if the RAJUK officials were not involved," said Jamal Nazrul Islam founder of Urban Research Centre, adding, "There has been discussion for long that there are problems in the RAJUK. All the parties involved in this now must be accountable."
The landowner claimed there was no legal design of the building after the 18-storey one approved in 1996 by RAJUK.
A general diary was filed with the Gulshan police station on behalf of Faruque in 2008. It sought legal assistance stating several irregularities including building of four extra stories overriding the actual design of the building and the RAJUK’s declaration of the building as illegal.
In May 2010, Faruque sent a letter to the then RAJUK chairman. In the letter he mentioned that Rupayan sold off the three floors to Quasem Drycells which was declared illegal by RAJUK and he sought to know whether the sold floors had been registered in anyone's name.
Faruque's family members said RAJUK did not take any steps within the next eight years after the letter.
The basement of FR Tower caught fire on 31 August 2008. A general diary on behalf of Faruque was filed with the Gulshan police station that time saying the construction company did not have any fire extinguishing equipment in the basement and the spaces designed for the generator and substation were sold while those were placed at other risky, insecure places.
The managing director of Rupayan, LA Mukul could not be contacted. An official of Rupayan, however, claimed RAJUK approved the extra stories of the building in a meeting on 15 February 2005.
Following the fire incident, the housing and public works ministry sought documents and design of the FR Tower separately from RAJUK and the construction company. The design provided by RAJUK was of an 18-storey building while Rupayan came up with a 23-storey one. The concerned committee of the ministry said they could not confirm which one of the designs was original without further verification.
"A committee is scrutinising the information," said RAJUK chairman Abdur Rahman adding, "Steps will be taken after the investigation."
Such things happen when corruption and political interests dominate. RAJUK has always neglected its responsibility of development and control and this has made Dhaka a city of death, said architect Iqbal Habib.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.