Bangladesh Building China-Backed Exhibit Center in Defiance of Court Rulings

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury on Jan 15, 2020

Dhaka’s city development authority is close to finishing a Chinese-backed exhibition center –part of a project touted as Bangladesh’s biggest new planned township – officials said, although Bangladeshi courts have denied permission for the hall’s construction.

The agency is carrying on with building the exhibit center in the heart of the future high-tech township known as Purbachal, the project’s director said, despite court orders handed down over the years, including one issued by the Supreme Court as recently as October.

“Yes, the construction has been going on. Hopefully, the Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center will be opened in July this year,” Mohammad Rezaul Karim, the agency’s official in charge of overseeing the center’s construction, told BenarNews.

He said a Chinese firm was building the structure on a 26-acre subdivision.

Construction on the hall began in July 2016 and its estimated overall price tag is 13 billion taka (U.S. $153.3 million), officials said. The Chinese government is providing Dhaka with a grant of 6.2 billion taka ($73.1 million), while Bangladesh will cover the remainder of the costs for the exhibit center, Bangladeshi officials said.

“True, the court did not allow us to build the Bangladesh-China Exhibition Center. We are planning to go to appeal against the court orders,” Ujjwal Mallick, another official with the agency officially known as the Capital City Development Authority (RAJUK), told BenarNews without further explanation.

He was responding to a question about why construction was still happening, although both the High Court and Supreme Court had ruled against it, court papers show.

‘Very friendly relations’

Last year, the Chinese and Bangladeshi governments announced that China would play a major role in building the new township on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital, a project being developed on 6,150 acres.

Once complete, the township will feature a high-rise tower, 62,000 apartments, office buildings, an industrial park and shops, according to information posted on RAJUK’s website.

In November, the agency announced that it had awarded a contract to a Sino-Bangladeshi joint venture company, United Delcot Water Ltd, for the construction of the township’s water distribution system.

The firm building the exhibition center is the Chinese State Construction Engineering Corp. (CSCEC), one of the world’s largest engineering firms.

“The Chinese have been constructing the center for us as we have very friendly relations with China,” Mallick said.

A BenarNews correspondent visited the construction site of the exhibit hall last week, but a CSCEC official refused the reporter permission to enter the premises and ordered him to leave.

The ruling by the courts that denied RAJUK permission to build the hall date back to 2013.

They stem from complaints filed by Bangladeshi environmentalist and human rights advocates, who allege that the city development authority is potentially violating a host of environmental regulations and laws by adding the exhibit hall as part of a set of changes to the township’s overall design.

The design changes included an iconic high-rise tower, the exhibition center and a stockyard.

“The High Court and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, in separate orders, declared the Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center illegal. But the construction has been going on unlawfully,” Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), told BenarNews.

Her group is one of two organizations that petitioned the courts to block the center from being constructed.

“RAJUK modified the Purbachal design to build the exhibition center, the high-rise iconic tower and the Purbachal central stockyard. The center and other two buildings will harm environment,” she said.

“Rajuk could face contempt of court,” she added.

Court actions

In March 2014, Bangladesh’s High Court issued a decision instructing RAJUK “not to efface, subtract, vary, modify or otherwise change the core forest, forest, lakes or canals, urban green, parks, playgrounds, play lots, green belt and other environmental-oriented spaces of the project without any permission of the court.”

The High Court then allowed the project to go forward, but stipulated that “only the Iconic Tower” could be built on the 26-acre parcel of land, according to court documents seen by BenarNews.

In 2015, BELA appealed the high court’s decision before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

In a decision handed down on Oct. 10, 2019, an appellate bench of the court reiterated that “only an Iconic Tower” may be constructed provided that “RAJUK must be vigilant, cautious, and circumspect about the ecological balance and biodiversity of the area.”

“It goes without saying that the rampant felling of trees and indiscriminate filling up of canals, lakes, ponds, etc. will definitely threaten the ecosystem and biodiversity of the areas,” Justices M.I. Chowdhury and Md. Asharful Kamal said in their verdict.

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