The apathy in preserving heritage sites is growing alarmingly. Our Lalbagh fort is a declared UN World Heritage Site. But the Archaeological Department is giving no importance to it. The situation reached such a stage that recently the High Court Division of the Supreme Court directed the Lalbagh Police Station to take immediate steps to halt illegal construction work taking place in the immediate vicinity of the historic Lalbagh Fort, who also happens to be a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site.
The writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) stated that several structures had been erected on the boundary wall of the fort that was threatening the existence of the site and degrading the pristine beauty of the place. This directive comes against the backdrop of an earlier ruling by the Court on October 10 that directed the government to conduct an inspection by Director General of Land Records and Survey within a period of three months and remove all private structures from the fort premises and demarcate the original area. The Court went to the extent of saying that in future, any construction in the area should be strictly monitored by the State so that they are done in accordance with the terms and conditions specified in the Antiquities Act 1968 (amended in 1976) and Building Construction Rules 2008.
Sadly enough, such unauthorized and blatantly illegal activities in and around historical sites continue to take place all over the country under the very nose of the authority. According to a survey carried out in 2008, nearly 145 out of 158 protected archaeological sites in Rajshahi Division were virtually unprotected. The Department of Archaeology has been suffering from an acute shortage of security personnel. The Mahasthangarh site alone requires around 51 permanent while Paharpur Bihar requires around 32 security personnel.
The reality unfortunately is that most sites have been left unprotected resulting in large scale theft of precious historical items, such as terracotta plaques from the Baro Annik temple of Puthia of Rajshahi. The places of historical interest like Amjhupi Neel Kuthi (Indigo House) under Sadar upazila of Meherpur district situated on the bank of the river Kazla under the shade of a large green grove that charms the eyes of viewers are now in a deplorable condition due to lack of repair, renovation and maintenance. Amjhupi Neel Kuthi had been built by the British rulers in the early time of their rule. Countless farmers were mercilessly punished here by the indigo planters for their refusal to bring their land under indigo cultivation as per their directives.
It has become a burden on the part of the upazila administration due to paucity of fund for maintenance. For want of requisite manpower the beautiful flower garden beside the panoramic Bungalow has become a death trap. The connecting road from Amjhupi Bazar to Neel Kuthi has become a death trap. Besides several acres of land are grabbed by the dishonest people in collusion with a section of greedy public servants. Foreigners and the people of other districts who come to Meherpur do not go back without paying visit to the indigo house. If the authority concerned makes the Kuthi a place of tourist action and brought under the maintenance of Archaeology department; a huge amount of revenue could be earned every year from the travelers. Effective steps be taken to keep up the Amjhupi Neel Kuthi as a symbol of indigo planter’s torture for the future generation and the travelers.
The most pressing threats, it appears in a majority of Bangladesh’s heritage and historical sites are drainage problems resulting in water logging salinity, uncontrolled vegetation, vandalism, climatic conditions, public trespassing and encroachment. Conservation goes hand in hand with routine maintenance and maintenance is also directly linked to finances. With the issue of heritage and historical sites ranking low in the list of priorities of successive Bangladesh governments, maintenance has always been very poor or non existent and most places. Funds alone cannot rectify the multifaceted problems faced by the bulk of the heritage and historic sites in Bangladesh. It must be backed up by legislation that it makes it mandatory to conserve all such structures.