History Not Repeat Itself
October 15, 1985, over 400 students packed the auditorium
of Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University -- the main chamber
of the former East Pakistan Legislative Assembly -- to watch
“Shuktara”, a popular weekly television drama. Even before
the first lines had been delivered, 39 of them were killed,
and scores others injured, when the roof of the 64-year-old
dilapidated ceiling of Mohsin Hall.
building had once been rebuilt and remodelled in 1947 but
never since. Rainwater often seeped through the roof and
students had repeatedly demanded its repair. All the authorities
did was call tenders and order a patchwork method of repair.
On September 7 of that year, the “Campus” page of The New
Nation featured an article titled “Red Tapism Destroying
Jagannath Hall” in which was described the dilapidated state
of the building, even warning that it would give way any
moment. The then Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, Prof
Shamsul Haque, visited the hall and instructed the concerned
authorities to do “the needful”.
the day of the tragedy, the building was undergoing another
of its patchwork method repairs. The outer coating of the
roof had been removed, making it even more permeable to
rain which, later seeping through, caused the immediate
collapse of the roof.
repair of the building as well as that of other old buildings
was always stalled on the ground of fund constraints. Why
the building, which was known to be unsafe, was still being
used and the students not vacated is a mystery. The fact
that the government and concerned authorities were incompetent
during the rescue operation comes later.
the showers hit at around 8:40 p.m., there was a loud bang,
the lights went out, and steel trusses, bricks, tiles and
iron rods crashed down upon a mass grave. Upon students
who, ironically, took shelter from the drizzle in the building.
Some who did not even usually watch television but who wanted
to relax after exams. Young men who tutored students, while
themselves studying, in order to help their families back
home. Sons who had promised their mothers they would be
back to celebrate Puja in a few weeks. A three-day national
mourning was observed after the incident.
of plaster from the ceilings regularly fall on people. Next
time it might be the whole roof.
over a month from today, Dhaka University students, for
the eighteenth year, will observe a day of mourning for
the Jagannath Hall tragedy. As they grieve one tragedy,
they wait in the looming shadows of a number of similar
newspaper reports on the condition of the Dhaka University
residential halls seem ominously familiar compared to those
published prior to the Jagannath Hall incident. According
to a number of reports published in The Daily Star, cement
plasters in the ceilings of Surya Sen Hall -- built in 1965
and never repaired since -- have loosened at over 100 points
in more than 50 rooms. The washrooms are in worse condition.
Plasters have fallen on students and staff. An extended
roof of the hall auditorium had to be demolished a few months
ago because it was feared that it would give way any time.
The condition of 18 rooms of Fazlul Haque Hall is also reported
to be very bad. The north block of the hall has been sealed
off after the authorities spotted cracks. Students say an
extension was demolished a few years ago because it was
feared that it could collapse any time, and, though reconstruction
work has been underway for years, it is still incomplete.
At Curzon Hall, the DU engineering division removed five
of the nine tumbledown balconies -- which not only added
to the traditional beauty of the building but also ventilated
it -- as the authorities did not supply funds for renovation.
of hall buildings has been non existent for years making
the structures dangerious and unlivable.
need regular maintenance and repair, particularly old ones.
Professor Nizamuddin Ahmed of the Architecture Department
of BUET in an August 24 news report of The Daily Star said
that worn-out buildings are further damaged by the vibration
of moving residents inside, making accidents more likely.
He also said that chunks of concrete with iron rods will
begin to collapse if the damaged structures are not repaired
living in the residential halls have complained about their
condition and demanded renovation, even staging demonstrations
in front of hall provosts' offices. At a decision of the
hall authorities -- apart from the demolition mentioned
above -- ceiling fans, which create pressure on the ceilings,
have been removed from the rooms of Surya Sen Hall. DU VC,
Professor SMA Faiz, has advised students to “remain careful”in
order to avoid accident. The university does not have adequate
funds to renovate, he also said. While the yearly allocation
for repairing the buildings is Tk. 1.5 crore, the amount
currently required is Tk. 11 crore.
university hall bathroom with its door broken and floor
full of grime.
promised by the VC, however, a consultation team from the
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET)
has visited Fazlul Haque Hall and submitted a planning report.
While DU engineering division sources say that the final
report is still pending, BUET sources say they have submitted
their final report, recommending demolition and reconstruction
of the decayed portions (The Daily Star, September 6).
same news story quoted engineering office sources as saying
that they submit proposals every year for remedial work
on the worst buildings, but that they never get the go-ahead
because the university does not have enough funds and the
authorities are bogged down in bureaucracy.
whole process is a vicious circle of negligence and carelessness
that has and may yet cost many lives. We have all the facts
and figures and we have a devastating example. With so many
red signals pointing towards tragedy, we hope that the concerned
authorities will do everything necessary to avoid it. We
have seen it happen before, and we can only hope that history
will not again repeat itself so disastrously.