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A hill at the centre of dispute: Bangladesh plans to designate it as heritage site

  • Mitoon Chowdhury, Chattogram Bureau, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-09-18 01:20:23 BdST

As the local administration and lawyers’ association in Chattogram have locked horns over construction on a hill, locally known as Porir Pahar, the government ponders over whether to declare it a heritage site.

Also, the district administration has proposed to announce the two-storey hilltop court building of 130 years as a heritage building.

A total of 44 government offices, including those of the divisional and deputy commissioners, will be shifted to Kalurghat from the hill if the proposal is approved.

The proposed ‘Coordinated Office Building Construction Project’ in Kalurghat may have its final design approved this month. It may take around three to four years to complete the project.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has agreed to a Cabinet proposal on the removal of illegal structures from the hill and preventing new structures being erected.

On Aug 29, Chattogram district administration wrote to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to remove the illegal structures from the hill.

The ministry then made a query to the Department of Archaeology on Sept 9 to find out if Porir Pahar was a gazetted heritage site, or if there was a possibility to announce it as one, followed by conservation.

"We'll follow the directives from the higher authority. If the government wants the cultural affairs ministry to take the responsibility [of Porir Pahar], we will take it. We can give you the details only when the file is here,” said Joint Secretary Md Ataur Rahman.

"We hope it [the old court building] will be declared a heritage building under the Antiquities Act of 1968 that aims to conserve the history and tradition of Bangladesh. This building will be conserved and overhauled for the future generation,” said Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Mominur Rahman.

“This area will turn into an interesting place to visit, when this building is designated as a heritage building.”

The building was erected in 1893-94 during British rule. The civil society in Chattogram protested when the authorities tried to demolish the quaint building.

Later, in 2010, a new four-storey court building was built at the back of the old building. Hence, the hundred-year-old court building has been used as the offices of the commissioners and other government bodies.

When asked how the court will work if the area becomes a heritage site, the deputy commissioner said it would run without any disruption and the cultural affairs ministry would decide which buildings or which part of the hill will fall under the heritage site.

The dispute between the district administration and the lawyers started over the planned construction of two bar association buildings on the hill.

The district administration is describing the plan as “risky” while the association claims they have “permission” to construct the buildings.

To meet the growing demand for lawyer chambers, Chattogram Bar Association moved to construct the two new structures next to their main building.

But citing the Environment Conservation Act, Deputy Commissioner Mominur said land under hill category cannot be transformed into other categories for construction.

The district administration earlier this month issued a notice warning against illegal structures on the hill, and creating anger among the lawyers, although the notice did not mention their plan.

PROPOSED PROJECT

Currently, people seeking service from the government offices face a lot of trouble as the offices are scattered across a wide area. Some of the government offices do not even have their own building.

Besides the 44 government offices, the proposed project on a 73-acre piece of land in Kalurghat near Bangabandhu Maritime University and the Karnaphuli river will house government employees’ hospital, circuit house, government training centre, multi-storey car park and monument.

The project design is expected to be finalised by Sept 23.

“In the next three to four years, the Chattogram people will be able to access all government services at this place,” the deputy commissioner said.

Porir Pahar belonged to the Portuguese during the Arakan rule in the 16th century. Bengali landlord Akhil Chandra Sen owned the hill after the ownership shifted through several people during British rule.

In 1889, the British government bought Porir Pahar from Akhil Chandra. The two-storey court building was erected in 1893-94 spending Tk 600,000.