Vol. 5 Num 858 Mon. October 23, 2006  
Star City

Last minute land grabbing
'Dubious deal' on a parkland in Motijheel

Half-an acre of prime land in Motijheel is now under the grip of an influential quarter backed by ministry of housing and public works and the Dhaka City Corporation in the guise of beautification by a renowned bank in the last minute of this government's tenure.

The anomalies and fishy manner in which the DCC authorities have taken possession of the parkland for Dhaka Bank have given rise to high speculation that the million-dollar land at the prime commercial district is going to be eaten up through a shady deal.

All though the Dhaka Bank authorities, now the custodian of the park, denied having any planned commercial ventures at the site, the manner in which the land has been taken over suggests the fate of the public land now hangs in the balance.

According to various sources, this is just a ploy of the public works minister Mirza Abbas, who himself, his wife and his family members own most of the shares of Dhaka Bank, to eat up the public land in the long run.

Mirza Abbas said that he has no involvement as minister in the process of handing over the parkland to Dhaka Bank.

Founder chairman of the bank, Abbas said, "Dhaka Bank authorities long back requested me verbally to hand over the parkland to them to develop it as a car parking lot, which I refused to do."

"I instead intended to develop a green belt at the site but I could not do that," Abbas said.

The park is just adjacent to and lying to the east of Bangladesh Biman's local office in the heart of Motijheel commercial area, while Dhaka Bank runs its corporate head office in the Biman office building as a tenant.

Biman, the national airliner, had taken over the park more than 40 years ago for beautification and ever since the land had been under Biman's management and in its possession, said a number of Biman officials.

"We have long been using and maintaining the parkland under our jurisdiction," said the deputy general manager (Estate and Common Services) of Biman Anwar Kader, "But DCC just all of a sudden took its possession keeping the Biman authorities in the dark without any prior intimation."

"The only thing we know is that the land has been handed over to Dhaka Bank," said Kader, "But we do not know what actually they are going to do with the land."

The DCC should have intimated the Biman authorities of its taking possession and handing over to another organisation at least for the sake of decorum, said the Biman DGM.

"The DCC authorities even did not bother to inform us about demolition of Biman's car parking shade," said an elderly Biman staff, who has been serving for 35 years.

According to Biman staffs, who have been serving for more than last 30 years, said that it was the Biman authorities that planted trees in the park, fenced it off with iron grill and was maintaining it. This correspondent found Biman's monogram marked on the concrete pillars of the park's boundary fencing.

The 9-story Biman office in Motijheel has no car parking provision and it was using a portion of the park as a car parking lot with a makeshift shade in between the park and eastern entrance of Biman office.

Staffs of different organisations, traders and temporary vendors in the vicinity said that the DCC officials equipped with bulldozers and backed up by police came just all of sudden on Thursday to take possession of the parkland.

They took possession of the land on a deserted weekly holiday Friday, started demolishing the Biman's car parking shade, enclosed the park with hard boards and raised signboards in the name of DCC reading beautification work in progresses.

On a visit Saturday, this correspondent found a number of security men of Dhaka Bank guarding the park while demolition of car parking shade was on.

"We have hard that Dhaka bank will build a car parking lot here," said one of the on-duty security guards.

Dulal, a tea vendor on the park side for last two years, said, "We have heard the bank staffs saying the bank will construct a high rise building at the parkland."

A cleaner of Dhaka Bank, requesting not to be named, said, "As far as I have heard, the green park will be turned into a car parking lot."

Managing director of Dhaka Bank Shahed Noman said, "We got the beautification contract from the DCC six months ago."

Responding to approaching the works minister, Noman said, "We did not approach the works minister. We verbally asked the Biman authorities to build a car parking lot in the parkland expressing our interest to sponsor the construction work."

Assistant vice-president of the bank Azam Khan said, "We got the four-year beautification contract and we have no commercial purpose."

Beautification Cell of the DCC has handed over the land to Dhaka Bank.

Iftekharul Haq, officer-in-charge of the cell, said that the parkland is the property of DCC and they have handed it over to Dhaka Bank for beautification.

"We did not inform Biman authorities of the matter because we don't have time to follow the formalities of cancelling contract, if any," said Haq, "Above all, we were not aware that the park had been under Biman's maintenance and possession."

Rajuk handed over 42 public parks in the capital to DCC for maintenance by an order in 1982, according to Rajuk sources, many of those parks are untraceable today because of grabbing and encroachment.

Sohel Faruquee, DCC's Chief Conservancy Officer and member secretary of the beautification cell, said, "We handed over the park to Dhaka Bank one and half a months back for beautification under certain conditions that do not allow it to construct any paramagnet structure without permission."

Industries ministry that sits beside the park too wrote to DCC to evict the illegal people in and around the park and to keep it clean, he said.

"We handed over the parkland to Dhaka Bank as it showed interest to maintain the park," said Faruque.

Asked whether they approached Biman for better maintenance of the parkland, "I do not even know of any such arrangement under which Biman has been managing the park."

"Estate department officials know more about the park and possible commercial use," faruquee said, "We have no business other than determining an organisation for beautification of the parkland."

"We had no business in the handover deal other than eviction of illegal occupancy," said the chief estate officer of DCC Abu Taleb.

The estate department was asked to evict the illegal occupancy in and around the park for possession and start of beautification, as the beautification cell has handed over the parkland for beautification, Taleb said.

The prime land in Motijheel was vacated on Friday in the name of beautification. PHOTO: STAR