Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

 Published in: The Daily Star on November 16, 2016
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

The BGMEA building has been termed a “cancer”. Today, it is almost symbolic to bring the BGMEA building down. But of course, if BGMEA has violated the rules, it is to be punished. That’s normal. What, however, is not normal is the existence of thousands of buildings that have sprung up out of nowhere in Dhaka. What is not normal is the existence of thousands of sign boards of thousands of “projects” on water bodies that tempt people to buy plots and dream of a piece of apartment in that very area, which may never turn into reality. We literally have cities within this city built on grabbed lands. I wonder if these buildings will ever be brought down. I wonder if anyone has ever assessed why is it that we still can’t bring the land grabbers to justice. I wonder if there will ever be any mass movement against these influential grabbers who defy every rule of the game and survive above and beyond any moral judgment.

The High Court has ordered the BGMEA building to be demolished immediately. The gist of the verdict, along with facts, is:

– The High Court in 2011 had ordered demolition of the building, as BGMEA constructed the building on a piece of land bought from the Export Promotion Bureau for Tk. 51.7 million with the government’s approval at Karwan Bazar, yet violating the Building Construction Rule and the Wetlands Protection Act, not adhering to the city development law of 1953.

– The building hinders the water flow of the Begunbari canal and creates obstruction for the Hatirjheel project. The HC directed that the canal must be restored to its original state and the project has to follow the actual design.

– The HC also felt, “There was huge fraud behind the construction of the building.”

Hence, the demolition is imminent.

The cost for demolition is to be borne by BGMEA. In case BGMEA fails, RAJUK will take the building down within the next 90 days. This has been a case which was argued for years. After the decision of the PM’s office to hand the land over to BGMEA in May 1998, after having taken approvals from eight different institutions including Civil Aviation, Police, City Corporation, Fire Service, BPDB, WASA, Titas Gas, Environment department, and the Honourable PM launching the project in November 1998, and after Khaleda Zia inaugurated the building in October 2006, the whole discussion with RAJUK continued about the construction of the bridge and has remained unresolved till date. In the meantime, the decision to demolish the BGMEA building began in 2011 followed by BGMEA’s move for leave to appeal. It was only the other day, on November 8, that the full judgment on the demolition of the building was announced and hence RAJUK, in anticipation, has already started making preparations to take the building down.

After Tazreen and Rana Plaza, and all the discourse on exploitation of labour that goes around, it is easy to hate garment manufacturers. On top of that, if there are popular public intellectuals that support that notion, then automatically, the whole movement gains momentum. This is how authoritarian governments come down. This is how popular leaders turn unpopular overnight and suffer public outcry. At the end, it is always the story of justice prevailing over the corrupt, who at some point, are axed by either divine powers or by the law of the land. But of course, there are exceptions.

There are at least 20-30 influential people in the country who are never touched, never reprimanded, never taken to task as they have validated their positions. Validation is a risky business. How does this happen? How do people with the most tarnished reputation of being loan defaulters turn out to be the most powerful? How do the most powerful people own media houses that attempt to change the course of truth. In the process, we end up having two truths: 1) The Truth; 2) The Validated Truth. While the first is universal, the validated version of truth goes through a process of being checked and ticked by authorities and does not require any ethical assessment. This process involves close examination of how close that person is to authorities, how loyal he or she has been to the power core, etc. Fair enough. If people with close affiliation to the core cannot be touched and rather become forces above and beyond justice, how is the readymade garment industry routinely targeted, in spite of contributing 80 percent of the export basket, in spite of directly supporting 20 million people, considering at least five people depend on the earning of the primary four million readymade garment workers.

BGMEA building is to be taken down. Fair enough. It should have never been constructed in the first place. But through this column, I am humbly proposing the following:

Let the building stay by only the columns remaining at the bottom, which will allow the water to pass through the construction.

After BGMEA leaves the building, let the building be turned into a Natural Museum representing the spirit of the environment; (photo attached)

Let BGMEA find its own space and build its alternative abode in some other place within 2019 and shift.

To the best of my knowledge, BGMEA wants to leave the building as the sector cannot afford to be shamed anymore. BGMEA also wants to buy time to build and shift. If there’s any way for BGMEA to be granted time to shift, it would help the sector enormously as today, there are number of discussions, negotiations being held in BGMEA, which relate directly to the future of this industry. This is a time for the nation to stand beside the sector as it does not only involve the lot of the business people but the workers, who stand to lose everything if the sector is not well represented in the global map.

The industry is transitioning to a new phase with improved structural, fire and electrical safety and will need all the help of BGMEA to survive the challenges. All the important stakeholders sit in that building and seek solution on a daily basis. Therefore, taking all the transitional challenges into consideration, it would be best if BGMEA could be given time to relocate and to dedicate the existing structure to the establishment of a natural science museum, which will serve the purpose of a symbolic censure.