Bangladesh SOCIETY 
Historic Gulshan Shopping Centre in Bangladesh Faces Demolition Amidst Legal Disputes and Trader Concerns

MD JUBAIR AHMED/Dhaka Tribune | 31/01/2024

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Text Size:  

Gulshan Shopping Centre, an iconic establishment in Gulshan-1 with a history of almost 50 years, has been entangled in a web of incidents and legal complexities related to its demolition for over 15 years. 

Recently, with the court's approval, the shopping center is undergoing demolition to make way for a new building. 

However, former shop owners from Gulshan Shopping Centre claim that they were compelled to relinquish their shops rather than doing so voluntarily.

In 1975, the then DIT (now Rajuk) allotted a 99-year lease for two bighas of land in plots 14, 37, 41, and 43 of Gulshan to two companies named "Banichitra" and "Chalachchitra." 

These companies, primarily distributors of domestic films, were initially managed by Ahmed Fazlur Rahman. Under his leadership, a five-storey commercial building was constructed, and the ownership of the shops was subsequently transferred to different individuals.

After Fazlur Rahman's demise, his son, Ahmed Faizur Rahman, assumed the role of managing director for both institutions. In 1997 and 1999, he approved separate revised designs, adding another floor to the building, which was then sold as shops.

A significant development occurred in 2006 when Shanta Holdings entered into an agreement with the two companies and was granted power of attorney. 

However, in August 2023, Shanta Holdings received a letter on behalf of the two companies, accusing them of irregularities.

In the midst of these events, the shop owners at Gulshan Shopping Centre express concerns about potential loss of their shops due to the agreement between Shanta Holdings and the landowners without their prior knowledge. 

In 2007, they filed a case against the agreement involving "Banichitra" and "Chalachchitra" and Shanta Holdings.

Objection of shop owners

The shop owners contend that during 1977-78, the building proprietors or organizations overseeing this marketplace sold the shop positions to them. 

At that point, they believed they were the rightful owners. However, in 2006, without any notification, the landowner entered into an agreement with Shanta Holdings. At that time, the shop owners did not inform Rajuk about this matter.

The owner of the building did not provide any documents, only furnishing a paper mentioning the position. Unfortunately, they did not scrutinize the document closely. Now, upon examination, it is apparent that their position was not explicitly outlined in that paper.

Seizing this opportunity, Ahmed Faizur Rahman, the current managing director and son of Fazlur Rahman, entered into an agreement with Shanta Holdings after his father's demise. Upon discovering this agreement, the shop owners formed an association and sought legal recourse.

Mohammad Hammad, president of Gulshan Shopping Center Shop Owners Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited, said that the initial case in 2007 ruled that the shop owners cannot be evicted without resolving the underlying issue. However, they remained silent, presuming they were secure.

"In hindsight, we should have appealed against that verdict," Hammad remarked. 

Due to changes in the association's committee, they did not pursue this avenue. 

Gradually, the companies continued their actions. Since 2016, various measures have been initiated to displace the shop owners. 

In 2016, their electricity lines were disconnected by the magistrate from Rajuk, citing unauthorized construction in the building. 

The traders went to court for electricity restoration. The court declared there was illegal construction, and the building owner did not want to maintain electricity. 

In response, the shop owners appealed, asserting that they had legitimately acquired the shop positions with their funds, and now they were being deceived.

On August 16, 2016, the court ruled in favour of traders, stating that the plaintiffs in the case were indeed the owners of the shop positions. 

Subsequently, the film company filed a review petition against the verdict, claiming ownership of their land, buildings, and shops. 

The hearing of the case was repeatedly delayed, especially after Justice SK Sinha, who initially presided over the case, left. 

When Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah assumed the position, he cast doubt on the ruling in favour of the traders, saying: "There is no law that designates shop owners as building owners."

Questions about fire safety

On January 2, 2017, a significant fire incident occurred in the DNCC's kitchen market located adjacent to Gulshan Shopping Centre. 

After the fire, officials from the Department of Fire Service and Civil Defense identified ten deficiencies in Gulshan Shopping Center's fire safety during an inspection on May 28 of the same year. 

Despite instructions to address these issues, the fire service reported that the defects remained unaddressed.

Subsequently, on June 11, 2018, the fire service issued a notice declaring the building as not fit for use. 

In response, the general secretary of Gulshan Shopping Centre appealed to the secretary of the Security Services Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs against this notice. 

Concurrently, the shop owner association took the matter to the High Court, contesting the fire service's decision. 

Nevertheless, the High Court directed the city corporation and Rajuk to adhere to the instructions of the fire service. 

Following this directive, a committee from the fire service revisited Gulshan Shopping Centre on June 21, 2021. In their subsequent report, the fire service maintained their decision that the building was not fit for use.

Random fire incidents

The shop owners claimed that the fire incident in the DNCC kitchen market was exploited as a pretext to displace them. 

Mohammad Hammad, the president of the association, said: "Subsequently, fire started to break out randomly, seemingly to label Gulshan Shopping Centre as a potential risk as well.

“We believe that the fire in the kitchen market in 2017 was orchestrated primarily to undermine our existence. In response, we sought recourse through the fire service, which then initiated legal proceedings based on the fire. We contested this in court, urging that the decision be determined by the state, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs. Unfortunately, the ruling went against us, resulting in financial losses,” he added.

"In 2018, our building was deemed hazardous by the fire service. Subsequently, we filed a case in opposition. Regrettably, we lost that case in 2020," Hammad added.

Compromised solution

Faced with the challenges of a prolonged legal battle, the shop owners of Gulshan Shopping Centre opted for a compromise in 2021. According to the terms of this agreement, the shop owners would receive compensation corresponding to their position and the size of their respective shops. 

Following this decision, many individuals relinquished their claims to the shops, accepting the agreed-upon compensation from the developer company, Shanta Holdings. 

However, some shop owners chose an alternative path, seeking shop allocations in the new building without accepting monetary compensation.

Mohammad Hammad, the spokesperson for Gulshan Shopping Center Shop Owners, explained: "The agreement stipulated that Shanta Holdings, on behalf of the landowner, would provide a total of Tk200.11 crores. We have already received approximately Tk180 crores, and the remaining amount is yet to be disbursed."

Meanwhile, despite the assurance to vacate the building post-Eid-ul-Fitr 2023, the executive officers and executive magistrates of Zone-3 of DNCC, Zulkar Nayan and Mahbub Hasan, sealed Gulshan Shopping Centre on July 13 of that year. 

This incident led to protests by traders who opposed leaving the building. The confrontation escalated, resulting in clashes with the police, leading to the blockade of the Gulshan-1 intersection.

Traders’ regret

Although the issue has been resolved, shop owners are expressing deep regret as the longstanding business establishment, Gulshan Shopping Centre, undergoes demolition.

Anisur Rahman, who owned a shop for 44 years, revealed the emotional impact of the situation. 

He said: "I had a gift item shop that I wanted to keep till the end. However, now there is no interest in setting up a shop elsewhere. I have decided to retire from business altogether."

Zahirul Islam, owner of “Gulshan Cuisine”, said: "If a new building is constructed, there might be limited space available, making it challenging to secure new store allocations. Hence, participating in negotiations felt like the right decision."

This article was first published in the Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh.

No comments found.