Bangladesh

Baishroshi Zamindar Mansion: ‘Heritage site’ losing lustre while govt clings to legal battle

Caught in the middle of a long tug of war between its heirs and the government, an age-old building located in Baishroshi area of Sadarpur upazila, with magnificent aesthetic features from the past, is in ruins.

Unfortunately, the authorities concerned in the government did nothing till date to protect and preserve the 50-acre property -- consisting of 14 intricately crafted buildings, two temples, five ponds with brick staircases and a large garden -- that could be preserved and showcased as a heritage site for future generations. 

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The mansion was built in 1864 by Raghuram Saha -- the founder of Baishroshi zamindar dynasty, according to locals.

The family once ruled 22 parganas or mahals in Faridpur and Barishal regions. The then British rulers of India later bestowed the family with the title 'Roy Bahadur Chowdhury'.

All of the family members except Sukusar Roy Bahadur moved to Kolkata in India after the zamindari system was abolished in 1950, when the family lost all their estates, including the Baishroshi mansion, to the state.

Sukusar Roy Bahadur took his own life after the independence of Bangladesh. Amaresh Roy Chowdhury, a successor of the family, resides in Rajshahi.

Currently, only 30 acres of the property including the ponds and the structures remain in dilapidated state under the possession of the government. Influential locals over the years encroached on the remainder of the land that belonged to the compound of the mansion. 

Buildings for land offices of the local union as well as the upazila have been built on the premises of the zamindar mansion and its five ponds have been leased by the government for fish farming.

All the valuable components, such as doors and windows, had already been stolen from the buildings and the few remaining components, especially metal works, are being stolen almost every day, said a number of visitors.

Zahir Hossain, a student at Government Rajendra College in Faridpur town, said, "I visited the zamindar house three times. The first time I visited the house, I saw many things like doors and windows. During my second and third visits, some of the doors and windows were missing."

"If we don't save structures and houses of bygone ages, our next generations will not be able to comprehend the lifestyles of the zamindars and their families," he also said.

In 2012, Amaresh Roy Chowdhury in a case filed with the 'Vested Property Return Tribunal' claimed inheritance rights on 22.01 acres of the Baishroshi mansion.

After the court delivered verdict in favour of Amaresh Roy Chowdhury, the deputy commissioner of Faridpur filed an appeal against the verdict in 2015. Amaresh Roy Chowdhury finally won the legal ownership of the property after the court turned down the appeal.  

But in 2016, the district administration resorted to the 'Special Establishment and Protection of Government Property Act' to file a writ petition with the High Court Division of the Supreme Court, claiming ownership rights on 16.45 acres out of the 22.01 acres of the property. The verdict on the petition is still pending.

Locals said a good number of visitors come to see the Baishroshi zamindar mansion and the government has a responsibility in protecting the heritage site and its antiquities.

Contacted, Sadarpur Upazila Nirbahi Officer Purabi Goldar said, "It was listed under 'A' category of vested properties... People come from faraway places to see this house. In order to preserve local heritage and history, it is imperative that this house is preserved."

Amit Roy Chowdhury, son of Amaresh Roy Chowdhury, regretted that the property under the long possession of the government had never been maintained and was left to be plundered by thieves and land grabbers. 

Although they won inheritance rights to the property at the court, the government is withholding its handover by filing a counter case, he said, adding that once all the legality is settled, his family would hold discussions with locals as to how the property should be preserved.

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