BUILDING safety issues have not been seriously by authorities despite many building collapses that have left thousands dead. Such negligence is evident in the way risky, rickety buildings are left unattended in Rajshahi University. The authorities have failed to renovate or pull down 19 buildings identified to be risky in July 2017. Such buildings include four halls of residence, several staff quarters. University engineering department officers say that the building could collapse any time, yet the authorities have taken no step to vacate the buildings. Students, teachers and employees continue to live in ageing buildings with plasters flaking off and rusty iron rods coming off. Provosts of all the halls identified risky say that they have informed the authorities concerned of the issue. The engineering and planning officials acknowledged the problem and the risk, yet they could not take any action for reported fund crunch. The vice chancellor of the university is reported to have been planning repairs of these buildings. Sadly, all that has been done since the buildings were identified as risky is planning.
A hall of residences of student collapsed in 1985. A total of 39 people, including 26 students and 13 guests, died in as the roof of the Jagannath Hall in the University of Dhaka collapsed. After the incident, the authorities every year observe October 15 as Dhaka University Mourning Day. While the administration observes the day of mourning, it does not do much to properly maintain the halls. Students of different public universities have complained how the authorities delay in responding to student’s maintenance requests. The case of Rajshahi University illustrates a procedural problem of fund disbursement from the University Grants Commission. From the response of the planning department, it appears that the annual budget allocation was inadequate for the work and the commission cannot allocate separate emergency fund for building renovation and demolition. Now, the authorities have to manage it from their annual allocation or they may have to wait for the next financial year. Every step of the way from annual planning, budgeting to fund disbursement, the magnitude of the risk was undermined by all authorities concerned.
By allowing students, teachers and employees to live in such vulnerable, rickety buildings, the authorities keep courting the possibility of a disaster. They must, with no further delay, sit with the University Grants Commission and other agencies concerned and take steps to immediately begin the renovation and reconstruction of the buildings. If required, alternative accommodation needs to be arranged for students living in the risky buildings. The government must also ensure access to emergency fund for public universities to attend similar emergency situations.
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