People in Bogura are continuing to build structures including houses in the fort city of Mahasthangarh – a major archaeological site in South Asia – in defiance of a High Court directive.
They have built houses using antique bricks and various types of artefacts from the archaeological site.
Acting on a writ petition, the High Court in 2010 ordered the authorities to stop all illegal construction in the reserve area.
The Department of Archaeology said at least 987 houses and other structures have been built in the city in violation of the Antiquities Act, 1968.
Along with bricks dating back from the Pala and Sen dynasties, various artefacts of archaeological value have also been used to build at least 76 houses.
Mujibur Rahman, an assistant director of the department, said there are several two-storey buildings among the five types of new houses being built there. These include brick-built, semi-brick built and mud houses on the fort city that sits on 394 acres of land.
Razia Sultana, custodian of the Mahasthangarh Archaeological Museum, said local people have been informed about the High Court order several times. "But they have been building various infrastructures including houses with the support of influential people."
She said, "After I took charge in March last year, I served notices on 45 people asking them to stop building houses illegally and 21 cases have been filed against them."
The archaeological site is on the list of probable world heritage sites of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Important artefacts made of metal, stone and earth from the pre-Maurya, Maurya, Gupta, Pala, Sen,
Muslim and other eras were found at the site during excavations at different times.
Dr Nahid Sultana, regional director (Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions) of the Department of Archeology, said an initiative has been taken to acquire the land for protecting the ancient city at a cost of about Tk750 crore.
Mentioning the historical significance of the fort city, she said, "About two decades ago, a Bangladesh-French joint excavation team found an earthen oven here made much before the birth of Jesus Christ. This is probably the first sign of human habitation in this fort city," she added.
Pitch black earthen pots, burnt clay plates dating back from the Shunga era, tallies used in the house roof, bronze mirror, women's bangle, molded metal coins and other artefacts were also found during excavation.
Asked about the steps being taken to stop the illegal construction, Ali Ashraf Bhuiyan, Superintendent of Police in Bogura, said, "Legal action will be taken against those who violate the High Court order."
Nasir Uddin of Garh Mahasthan Dakkhin Para village is one of the people who has built a permanent house in Mahasthangarh.
Nasir's son Shahidul Islam said, "The government has not yet acquired the land, but the Department of Archaeology has been obstructing us. We demand either the government acquires our land or allows us to build houses there."
The High Court in its 2010 order directed the authorities to acquire the land immediately.
The department has issued a notice on Mosharraf Hossain of Chandiparap village asking him to stop construction of his house in the fort city area. He has taken up the issue at the High Court.
"My family has become bigger. I will have to marry off my children. I need to build houses for them. In such a situation, we want a permanent solution to this problem," said Mosharraf.
Hannan Miah, director general of the Department of Archaelogy, said that in accordance with the court directive, a proposal for acquiring the land has been sent to the relevant ministry, and the ministry has already given importance to the issue.