The Chittagong Development Authority has admitted that it has no tangible data on the number of illegally built structures in the port city.
The development authority's Chief Town Planner Shahinul Islam Khan admitted this after the organisation declared that part of Barua Bhaban was built in violation of the building code.
Barua Bhaban is the scene of a deadly explosion that left seven people dead and 21 injured on Sunday morning.
Shahinul Islam told The Business Standard, "The Chittagong Development Authority has identified around 3,500 illegal structures in the port city, but the number could be much higher. We do not have any statistical data on the total number of illegal structures.
"Some parts of Barua Bhaban do not comply with the building code. The septic tank was built on a space designated for the road, which is illegal."
The development authority has jurisdiction over a 1,152 square km area in Chattogram, and around 2.5 lakh structures that have been built there. There are allegations that hundreds of buildings across the port city have been built illegally.
Shahinul Islam further said that the organisation has only two authorisation departments, while the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha has more than 20. He added, "We are suffering from a severe shortage of manpower, and it is hindering our ability to take action over illegal structures."
"A new organogram is being drafted for the Chittagong Development Authority. A proposal was made for creating a research cell, but higher authorities rejected it. A research cell is invaluable for carrying out surveys and assessing the habitability of buildings."
Meanwhile, a number of city planners say that the development authority has shown negligence of duty by citing building code violation shortly after an accident, instead of making an effort to identify such illegal structures beforehand.
Delwar Hossain Majumder, a member of the Parikalpita Chattogram Forum and a city planner, said, "The Chittagong Development Authority just declared the building where the explosion took place an illegal structure. What is this organisation's job then?
"The organisation is not following its own organogram. It is their job to build a planned city and they have the master plan for it. But the development authority is more preoccupied with large flyovers.
"The authorities are making the port city uninhabitable. They are going against their own masterplan by building flyovers."
Delwar added that hundreds of unplanned buildings are being built across the port city, but the authorities are not taking any action about it.
Experts in the sector also pointed out that surveys are needed to identify risky buildings, otherwise such accidents will continue to occur.
Asiful Haque, associate professor of Civil Engineering at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology, said, "The development authority cannot just deny all responsibility after giving someone the authorisation to build.
"The organisation must check to see if the constructed buildings are habitable. A lot of lives could have been saved if the organisation had done just that."
He added, "Many people get authorisation for a three-storey building, but build five stories instead. These people refuse to follow the building plan, which eventually leads to accidents and loss of life.
"Most of these culprits enjoy the culture of immunity. So, history repeats itself."
Sources at the development authority said that Barua Bhaban in Patharghata was built around 30 years ago. The five-storey building has ten units, but there was no empty space around the building, as is mandatory.
A septic tank was illegally built on the space designated for the road. The building's owners Dola Barua and Titu Barua have gone into hiding after the deadly incident.
Responding to a query, development authority official Mohammad Shamim said, "The organisation is trying to find out if the construction of Barua Bhaban had authorisation. We have yet to find related documents because they are decades old. The owners are still out of contact.
"Patharghata is a densely populated area. The road beside the building should have a width of 40 feet, but it is only 20-25 feet wide. We have deployed a team to find out the number of structures and building code violations in the area."