A staggering 96% of buildings in the capital have sprung up flouting major construction codes, riding on the years-long practice of altering building blueprints after designs are approved by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk).
According to a 2020 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, the Rajuk area has a total of 21.46 lakh establishments, of which 20.60 lakh do not have approved designs while only 85,500 have followed a proper layout.
Once Rajuk approves a design, it is supposed to oversee construction to ensure that the approved layout is being followed. There are allegations that officials stay away from following up on construction work in exchange of bribes. As a result, the capital city is far from being a planned urbanisation exercise. At the same time, violations of building codes have been causing an increase in accidents.
According to a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), the amount of open space that is supposed to be around a building under the construction code is not following Maximum Ground Coverage (MGC) and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) rules.
Adil Muhammad Khan, former general secretary of BIP, told The Business Standard that the study focused on how buildings are constructed by occupying open space. Although issues of irregularities in the construction of buildings are mentioned in detail, the specific reason has been found in this study.
He said about one lakh new buildings are being constructed within the Rajuk area every year.
How MGC and FAR are flouted
Tamanna Binte Rahman, a member of the BIP involved in the study, said that in case of a non-compliance with approved designs, building owners and various real estate developers adopt a very common approach.
"On a 5-katha plot, the ground floor can have a maximum of 2250 square feet in the design, which is according to the prerequisite of leaving 31% of land on all four sides of the building," she said.
A survey on about 200 illegally constructed buildings in different parts of the capital revealed that the ground floor of all those buildings covered more than 2250 square feet – ranging from 2300 to 2400 square feet.
In addition, the distance between one building and another was found to be 2-3 feet. Even 1.5 feet was found in one case, when it is supposed to be 6 feet.
In the case of FAR, the design of a 6-storey building on a 5-katha plot can be approved for a total construction of 12,500 square feet, including the ground floor, which means a maximum of 2100 square feet can be built on each of the 5 floors above the ground.
But as seen in each building, the perimeter of the floors above the ground floor has been increased from 50 to 100 square feet.
Tamanna, who is also an architect, said that the perimeter of the ground floor is being extended, the lanes of the road area are being occupied and distances between buildings are being reduced by violating the rules.
"As a result, even if an accident occurs in a building in an area, fire service vehicles cannot easily enter it. Even if they can, there is no space next to the building, so it is not possible to prevent accidents," she added.
Easy way out
Last year, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) conducted a study on harassment in securing design approvals for building construction.
According to the study report, the rules state that Rajuk should go for inspection before, during and after the construction of a building. But building owners pay bribes in amounts ranging from Tk5,000 to Tk1,00,000 to officials in order to go on with their construction activities.
The more the extent of rules violations, the more the amount of bribes, adds the report.
TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman told The Business Standard that service recipients were forced to pay extra in addition to the prescribed fees to get building designs approved. Usually Rajuk officials, brokers and service recipients collude among each other to agree on a sum.
"The amount of contract money depends on different factors, including area of land, location, intended use of land, number of owners, broker's status, breach of height limit, number of floors and defects in land documents," he said.
What will happen to these buildings?
Rajuk has recommended in the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) that it wants to legalise illegally constructed buildings with 10 times the fee for design approval, which experts have opposed.
Iqbal Habib, a planning architect, told The Business Standard that the recommendations made in DAP were by no means logical. Rajuk will have to take the initiative to demolish extra parts without demolishing the buildings completely.
Akhtar Mahmud, former president of BIP, said, "There are two sides to this. One is that if these buildings are not brought under regulation, they will remain illegal. Then again, the decision to legalise would encourage many to build illegal structures. People may think they can construct buildings illegally and legalise them later. Therefore, the issue needs to be reviewed on a wider scale. If necessary, lawyers can be consulted to determine what to do."
Provisions are followed in some areas
The BIP study says in Uttara, Dhanmondi, Banani, Baridhara, Nikunja and Gulshan, customers purchase apartments only after confirmation of Rajuk Occupancy Certificates. The practice is also being followed in Bashundhara residential area. According to DAP, the area of RAJUK is 1,528 sq km. Some 70% of buildings in Uttara, Dhanmondi, Banani, Baridhara, Nikunja, Gulshan and Bashundhara have followed MGC and FAR rules.
According to the study, people living in these areas are quite aware of rules.
What do real estate developers say?
Real Estate & Housing Association of Bangladesh (Rehab) President Alamgir Shamsul Alamin said all real estate developers listed with Rehab follow proper rules.
"There are many housing companies which are not Rehab members and take on such illegal building projects," he said, adding that a violation of building code by any Rehab member will result in its membership being cancelled.
What does RAJUK say?
Rajuk Chairman ABM Amin Ullah Noori told The Business Standard that the body was yet to decide its response to MGC and FAR violations through an alteration in designs.
"This issue has been raised in DAP and RAJUK will work on this after the DAP is finalised," he said.
However, the Rajuk chairman denied the allegations of irregularities and corruption against Rajuk officials during the periods of construction and post-construction monitoring.