A project to preserve the remains of a makeshift Pakistan Army cantonment in Barisal has been stalled by a dispute between the city authorities, leaving the Liberation War relic unprotected for over four decades.
The Muktijoddha Sangsad’s Barisal district chapter made the allegation against the the Barisal City Corporation and the Barisal office of Bangladesh Water Development Board (WDB) during a press conference at its office on Thursday.
Enayet Hossain Chowdhury, organizing commander of the Muktijoddha Sangsad Barisal unit, said the Pakistan occupation forces set up their base in the premises of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) when seizing control of Barisal township on April 25, 1971.
Because it was situated in a convenient location, the base was used by the Pakistan army as a mini-cantonment comprising four bunkers, two torture cells, and a mass killing ground inside.
After Barisal was liberated on December 8, 1971, the occupation forces and their associates left the WAPDA office premises, which were then transferred over to the control of WDB.
“The remains of the Pakistan Army base from the Liberation War are situated on land that is owned by the WDB, and we have been preserving the relic for the last 45 years,” Abu Sayeed, executive engineer of WDB Barisal office, told the Dhaka Tribune.
In 1992, facing demands by Barisal locals as well as freedom fighters, the LGRD Ministry approved a Tk3.5-crore project to conserve the area as a war memorial.
However, the project was delayed several times over two decades due to a change in the political regime.
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One of the derelict buildings in WDB's Barisal office premises used by Pakistan Army in 1971 Anisur Rahman Swapan/Dhaka Tribune
“We requested the city corporation to transfer the fund allotted for the preservation of the camp to us so that we can implement the project,” Abu Sayeed said.
In 2016, the government finally disbursed the allotted funds for the project to the Barisal City Corporation, which floated a tender to start the process.
Luthfar Rahman, executive engineer of the city corporation, told the media briefing that the deadline to complete the work was set for 2019.
The problems started when Jahanara Enterprise, the construction firm awarded the contract, began the work.
At the briefing, construction firm owner Mustak Ahmed, said: “When we started working, the local WDB office intervened, demanding a letter from the Ministry of Water Resources for the project to be implemented on their land.”
An exchange of letters between the city corporation and the WDB authorities stalled the project again, pushing the start of work to June 20, 2017.
But the dispute was never resolved, and the work never began.
Abu Sayeed said the WDB had forwarded the letter sent by the city corporation to the Ministry of Water Resources and were yet to receive a reply.
“We asked to see an approval letter from the Ministry of Water Resources since the WDB is under the ministry,” he said.
And so the makeshift army cantonment – now a remnant of the horrors of the Liberation War – have been left largely unprotected since the Pakistan Army left over 46 years ago.
Thursday’s press conference was also attended by Muktijoddha Sangsad District Commander Sk Qutubuddin Ahmed, City Commander Mokhlesur Rahman, Deputy City Commander Shahjahan Haoladar, and freedom fighters Abdul Huq, Birprotik, Mohiuddin Manik, Birprotik, and AMG Kabir Vulu, among others.