Illegal Housing Projects patronised by government

The low stretch of land is Dumni canal in the capital. The filled-up portions at the far end used to be water bodies. Land developers are filling up these wetlands for housing projects, many of which were declared illegal by the High Court a year ago. The photo, taken in February, is an instance of random destruction of wetlands going on unabated also elsewhere. File Photo

The government has legalised two illegal private housing schemes and is going to okay at least four others to the destruction of natural wetlands and rural homesteads on the capital’s north-eastern fringe.

An inter-ministerial body led by the housing minister conditionally approved BDDL Natundhara and United City (Neptune Land Development) in early May following recommendations from Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk).

Other schemes awaiting partial approval soon are Bashundhara (East West Property Development), Ashiyan City and Swarnali Abashan.

All of these housing schemes are among the 77 projects declared illegal by the High Court in June last year.

The court had directed the government to take action against the schemes developed over the past decade by filling up low-lying wetlands, water bodies, rural homesteads and croplands.

A year before the HC directives, an expert body on Dhaka’s detailed area plan (DAP) recommended removal of BDDL Natundhara, Swarnali Abashan and United City, showing those to be on floodplains in Bhatara, Santarkul, Dumni and Sutibhola moujas.

In addition, two housing schemes — Aftabnagar of Eastern Housing and Green Model Town of Amin Mohammad Group — which were initiated years ago without the required permission are now in the pipeline for approval, official sources have said.

In November last year, the environment department fined Ashiyan for destroying wetlands, floodplains and local ecology through illegal earth-filling in Dakshinkhan mouja.

According to findings by the assistant commissioner (land) office, Ashiyan has filled up and changed the character of 230-acre low-lying wetlands, homesteads of the rural poor, and destroyed graveyards and cropland though the company owns only 43 acres.

A deputy director of Rajuk’s town planning section issued a notice in August last year asking Ashiyan Managing Director Nazrul Islam to stop illegal development of Ashiyan City and Ashiyan Shital Chhaya and their advertisements on television and newspapers.

An executive magistrate has found that Ashiyan has destroyed biodiversity and local ecology by filling up low-lying wetlands, including Ashkona-Kaola canal, croplands and rural homesteads, according to documents obtained by The Daily Star.

According to records, at least 33 affected locals have filed complaint with the environment department of Ashiyan’s earth-filling on their land.

Within Bashundhara housing area, there are 216-acre Court of Wards land and 18-acre Khas land, including river and canal, said Zanendra Nath Sarker, ADC (revenue) of Dhaka.

Also, a 44-decimal Court of Wards land and a 23-decimal Union Parishad land fall within Ashiyan City and a 20-decimal khas land within Swarnali Abashan.

Nurul Huda, chairman of Rajuk, said the organisation had made the recommendation, as the district administration, utility agencies and the environment department had given clearances.

Asked why they recommended approving illegal schemes, Huda said, “Bashundhara and some other schemes recently complied with the rules.”

“We cannot hold back approval after a developer obtains clearances from other agencies,” he said.

Sheikh Abdul Mannan, member (planning) of Rajuk board, said, “We initiated the approval process considering the sufferings of land owners under the unapproved housing schemes, as they cannot build structures.”

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said Rajuk cannot play the same role as any other agency and approve housing projects taken up illegally.

“It should have challenged the clearances of other agencies because the developers have destroyed the character of the land and its use.

“The stance the government had taken earlier contradicts what it is doing now,” she added.

Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, who led the DAP expert committee, said such schemes were not legally permissible as long as DAP was in place.

Prof Sarwar Jahan, who teaches urban and regional planning at Buet, said the government should have widened and inter-linked all the natural canals, lakes and other water bodies before allowing the development of urban residential zone on the eastern fringe.

Since the developers embarked illegally on real-estate development by destroying natural wetlands and floodplains years back, he said, who is going to prevent it if they continue with such destruction?

Abu Hasan Mortuza, Rajuk town planner, said all the aspiring developers would soon get approval and flood flow zone would be excluded if there was any in the proposed projects.

Bashundhara has submitted a revised layout of a 1,435-acre first-phase scheme in Baridhara (A-L blocks). However, it owns 1,213 acres only, as per documents at Rajuk and the deputy commissioner’s office.

Ashiyan City has placed a layout covering a 43-acre area.

Swarnali Abashan has ownership on 75 acres of land of its 760-acre project area, according to DC office records, while BDDL Natundhara owns 173 acres of its 360-acre proposed area.

Rules say a housing scheme has to leave one-third of an approved area for open space and amenities.

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