Rajshahi prison authorities have partly destroyed a pre-colonial-era building inside the jail complex in the city’s Sreerampur area without consulting any archaeologist. The building was previously being used as the bungalow of deputy inspector general (prisons) since the 19th century, and authorities have claimed they are renovating it, keeping the original design intact. However, as this newspaper reported this week, the reality seems to be quite different. For example, the contractor hired by the Public Works Department (PWD) had demolished the roof of the structure, which has a complex blend of European and the then Bengal’s vernacular designs. According to archaeologists, conserving the building’s heritage by demolishing the roof was simply not possible.
The justification used by the authorities to not hire archaeologists to aid in protecting the uniqueness of the structure was that they have taken photographs of the building before tearing parts of it down, and so the contractors working on it would be able to keep its original design intact. The executive engineer of Rajshahi PWD said that they weren’t obligated to consult an archaeologist, as the building was not listed as “archaeologically protected”. However, there are reasons why archaeologists are experts at their job. And the apathy shown by the authorities both towards the knowledge of archaeologists and the usefulness of their expertise in safeguarding this pre-colonial era building, which, even if not listed as “archaeologically protected”, is of great historical significance—is simply appalling.
We have seen other historical structures similarly get ruined in the past, in nearly the exact same manner. And such demolitions, in many cases, were carried out with the motivation of embezzling money. The authorities in this case mustn’t repeat such mistakes and allow more historically significant structures to be ruined. They should hire archaeologists who can guarantee that the originality of the structure in question is maintained after renovation.