The housing and public works ministry has approved five private housing schemes violating its own laws.
The High Court had already declared the housing schemes illegal.
In the meantime, the developers are continuing work at the sites destroying and occupying wetlands, croplands and rural homesteads on the capital’s eastern fringe.
Moreover, the ministry in late May silently amended the rules related to private housing development, softening the stringent prerequisites to obtain approval with convenient provisions, apparently to facilitate the passage of shady schemes.
The developers, who had not got approval of their schemes, were required, as per private housing land development rules, 2004, to apply for approval within six months of the rules coming into effect.
But, instead, they illegally carried on with land-filling, advertisement and sale of plots of the illegal entities.
The committee on private housing approval led by the state minister for housing gave the nod to BDDL Natundhara and United City in early May, Swarnali Abashan and Green Model Town in early August and Ashiyan City in late September upon recommendations by Rajuk, the real-estate regulator.
Records show that the committee is keen on giving a go-ahead to Bashundhara of East West Property Development soon.
The HC in June last year declared these six schemes “illegal” along with a list of over 70 schemes.
A year before the order was issued, the expert team on Dhaka’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP) led by Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury had recommended the scrapping of Natundhara, Swarnali and United City projects and removal of what have already been developed at those sites. The experts mentioned that those projects had been developed on floodplains.
However, Md Nurul Huda, chairman of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), the custodian of housing rules, claimed that they had recommended the approvals in compliance with the DAP proposals.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said, “While the government was supposed to take legal action against the developers of such housing schemes, it rewarded those with approval. And, by doing so, the government violated its own laws, as there was no scope for delay condone.”
Prior to giving approval, she said, the government should have sought the court’s permission had there been anything contradictory with the court’s directions.
“Approval of shady schemes is aimed at protecting the interests of real estate developers against the country’s laws and public interests,” she told The Daily Star.
“There may be some underhand deal in it. We will challenge such approval in court,” Rizwana added.
The full verdict of the HC is yet to be released.
State Minister Abdul Mannan Khan said the environment department and utility agencies had already issued clearance in their favour. “The developers would have sued us had we not approved the schemes,” he mentioned.
Refuting the argument, Rizwana said the housing authorities should have challenged the issuance of clearances because “the developers have destroyed the character of land and its use”.
One may recall that Mannan Khan, immediately after assuming office, had created a public stunt by condemning unauthorised real estate developers, including the Bashundhara Group as “land grabbers”. He got locked in a heated altercation with the Bashundhara proprietor at a ministry meeting.
At a meeting of the approval committee in May this year, the state minister, however, asked officials whether they could approve the Bashundhara project conditionally to help the plot owners build their homes.
The salient conditions slapped on the approved schemes include settlement of land ownership disputes, exclusion and preservation of all government land, providing all the civic amenities as per rules, conservation of existing wetlands and layout revision as per land ministry decision on government land.
The ministry amended the housing rules allowing developers to get approvals for projects in which they only own three quarters of the project land.
Before, cent percent ownership of the project land was required for approval.
Official sources said there were provisions included in the rules that would help developers grab individuals’ land and dictate the deal with the individual as per their desire and convenience.
It would also deprive the government of registration fees required in the case of ownership transfers through registrars’ offices.
Another new provision implies that a housing scheme approved earlier would remain valid even if the developer resorts to anomalies. Only the developer’s registration would be cancelled as a punishment for the offence.
Mannan Khan claimed that the amendments had been made in consultation with all concerned.
Rajuk Chairman Nurul Huda said he was unaware of the amendment.
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury said he, too, was unaware of the amendments.
Rizwana, also a member of the DAP committee, said, “We know nothing about the amendments.”
HIDDEN LAND IN SCHEMES
According to Dhaka district administration records, Bashundhara submitted a 1,435-acre layout (A-L blocks), of which it owns 1,213 acres. The proposed area includes 216 acres of Court of Wards land and 18 acres of Khas or government land, including river and canal.
The Court of Wards under the land ministry is the management body overseeing government land under Bhawal estate.
While Ashiyan City has got approval of a 43-acre area layout, its proposed site is many times larger, according to official findings.
The proposed site includes some land of Court of Wards and local union parishad.
Swarnali Abashan has ownership of 75 acres of land although it has earmarked a much larger area, according to the DC office records; BDDL Natundhara owns 173 acres of its 360-acre proposed area. The area includes six acres of government land and two acres vested property.
United City owns 122 acres of its proposed 137-acre project area that includes nearly 10 acres vested property and 30 decimals of government land.
Green Model Town submitted a 149-acre layout for approval. Of the total area, it owns 130 acres.