THE fact that over 90 per cent high-rise buildings in the capital Dhaka and its surrounding areas lack clearance from the Department of Environment, something mandatory for such structures in line with the environment conservation law, is indeed worrying. As New Age reported on Thursday, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, the authority to oversee construction activities in the capital and its adjacent areas, approved the construction of at least 11,807 high-rise buildings from 2009 to 2012, while, according to environment department officials, only 1,256 such buildings had environmental clearance before construction from 1997 to 2013. Worse still, the owners of only 10 high-rise buildings took such clearance after completion of their buildings. What is more intriguing is that all this occurred despite the claim made by the Rajuk member for planning that they approve construction ‘after scrutiny of all the requirements including environmental clearance’. It may be pertinent to mention here that the scenario about compliance of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Act that restricts construction of any six-storey and higher building without clearance in the city is not different either. None other than Rajuk reportedly admitted that around 95 per cent of the high-rise buildings it approved between 2009 and 2012 lack the clearance.
One can say for sure, especially with the Rajuk and the environment department having blamed each other for the prevalence of non-compliance with environmental clearance requirement in the city, that there is a lack of coordination between the government authorities concerned over the oversight of the enforcement of the relevant laws. Meanwhile, an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission revealed that a section of Rajuk officials are involved in irregularities such as issuing fake clearance certificates in exchange for money who encourage people owning high-rise buildings not to approach the environment department and the Fire Service and Civil Defence for clearances. Additionally, as Rajuk officials responsible for giving approval of construction plans hardly challenge the authenticity of the clearance certificates enclosed with the plans, the owners usually remain unaware of the matter until a mobile court constituted by the environment department or the fire service conducts drive against non-compliant buildings. Of course, such drives have so far occurred in a very episodic manner due to, as the director of the environment department for Dhaka zone argued, shortage of manpower at the authorities concerned or their alleged complicity with the errant building owners.
In fact, the government needs to come forward to end such non-compliance with the rule and regulations important for making a high-rise building safe for living in the city exposed to disaster, natural and man-made. What it needs to do in the first place in this regard is make the authorities mentioned above serious enough in rendering their stipulated duties, needless to say, with utmost accountability and transparency.
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