Mosharraf Hossain, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, in a meeting on 21 September recommended the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) to legalise illegally built high-rise buildings by levying fines given that the foundation is in good shape.
The recommendation came in response to Rajuk's failure in dealing with building owners who have raised the heights of their buildings unlawfully and without proper monitoring.
"People are living in those units with uncertainty. This is why we asked Rajuk to legalise those buildings," Hossain reportedly said.
The former minister of Housing and Public Works also suggested that Rajuk can impose a specific amount of fine on the owners per square foot.
In 2019, Rajuk formed a team to conduct a survey of the condition of high-rise buildings — 11 stories and above — in the capital.
The Rajuk team investigated 1,818 buildings and found that 1,136 had Rajuk approval, 207 had approval from other agencies, while 475 had no approval at all.
Of the 475 high-rise buildings, 44 were constructed by government agencies and organisations, including the Public Works Department, Dhaka University, and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The buildings were constructed in different parts of the city including Mirpur, Ramna and Palashi, mostly as residential buildings for officials, employees and teachers.
Rajuk had to conduct the survey in the wake of a devastating fire in FR Tower at Banani that killed 27 people.
The survey also found that a total of 309 high-rise buildings had been vertically expanded illegally, and 738 buildings had breached the rules on land use.
Rajuk then took the initiative to demolish the illegal high-rise buildings. But ultimately, the city's development regulatory body failed to take action against those who violated the rules and regulations.
'A serious crime'
Building heights are primarily set to control the population density in a city. Dhaka city, already burdened with overcrowding, is one of the most unlivable cities in the world.
"These buildings will have a negative impact on many aspects of an area. For example, it will increase population density and put pressure on the utility services and the traffic will increase in the area," said urban planner Adil Mohammed Khan.
He noted that the first problem is that Rajuk approved the building owners to construct an eight-story building and the building owners constructed a 12-story building.
"There is no scope for tolerating illegally constructed high-rise buildings," Khan added. "Height deviation is a serious crime."
Architect Iqbal Habib said that it is not only risky for the dwellers of the building, but also for all adjacent buildings.
"The building is risky for the road in front of the building," said Iqbal Habib.
Iqbal Habib estimates that 20% of all 10-story-and-above buildings have anomalies.
"For example, one has gotten approval for building a 17-story building, but they constructed a 22-story building," said Iqbal Habib.
Will financial penalty be enough?
Adil Mohammed Khan, also the former general secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said that the Rajuk officials who are supposed to visit the building sites do not do the job accordingly. As a result, people construct buildings as they wish.
"Many Rajuk officials and employees have allegations of corruption," he said, adding, "The lawmakers also take sides with the people who deviate from the rules."
Khan said if the amount of fine is low, then people will be encouraged to hold on to the old practice.
Iqbal Habib believes that demolishing the unapproved parts of a high-rise building amounts to destroying the assets of the country. So, he suggests imposing a very high amount of financial penalty so that no one dares to do the same thing.
Habib, who is also a member of the Urban Development Committee of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, said that the issue was raised in the last meeting.
"As a member of the committee, I am saying that if the amount of financial penalty will be such that no one will ever dare to do the same thing in the future. There is no point in making such a policy if the amount is minimal," he said.
The approved Detailed Area Plan (DAP) has already proposed to form a committee to draft a policy for the assimilation of deviated or unapproved high-rise buildings besides not allowing anomalies.
Habib said that a committee has been formed to make a policy on how the illegal high-rise buildings will be legalised. The policy also includes the provision for buildings being demolished if they pose risks.
The policy will clarify whether a financial penalty, building correction or demolition will be needed.
The main purpose of formulating the policy is that no one feels encouraged to bend the rules in the future.
He said that the sub-committee has been asked to submit the draft of the policy within one month.
However, Khan said that the demolition of Rangs Bhaban and BGMEA Bhaban set an example that laws are equal for all.
"But now we are taking a step backwards. The decision to legalise illegally built high-rise buildings is totally unacceptable. If the government takes such steps of levying fines on the illegal high-rise buildings, the DAP will not work ultimately," he added.