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Bhawal Estate 3

Pvt project on public land

Developer gobbled up 202 acres at courtesy of 4-party govt's land ministry

"Deliberate" neglect by the Ministry of Land during the four-party alliance rule paved way for a developer to take over 202.76 acres of public land.

The land belongs to the Court of Wards that has been custodian of the legendary Bhawal estate since late 1930s.

The East West Property Development Ltd (EWPD) has developed its housing project near Baridhara on that particular piece of land.

Prompted by repeated reminders from the custodian of the estate since 1993 that its land was being grabbed, the government has recently formed a probe committee to look into the matter.

Earlier in 2008, the then government formed another committee to look into the same allegations. The report of that probe, however, never came to light.

"The committee is now working and we have yet to get the report of the probe," said the director general of the Directorate of Land Record and Survey.

Insiders at the Court of Wards, which works under the land ministry, say the four-party alliance government favoured EWPD to take over the valuable land ignoring the appeals filed with the Land Appellate Board.

"We had filed around 1,100 appeals with the Land Appellate Board as our land was being recorded under the name of EWPD. The Court of Wards was also wining the cases initially," said Abdur Rauf, manager of the Bhawal estate.

"But the ministry had decided to favour the EWPD during the time of BNP-led alliance. So the ministry directed the Land Appellate Board to adjourn the hearing of the appeals showing loopholes in the laws," Rauf commented.

After the scam centring the Bhawal land and EWPD was revealed during the last caretaker rule, the DG of land survey directorate was instructed to resume hearing on the appeals and implement the judgments that went in favour of the Court of Wards.

The instruction was conveyed to the DG in a letter signed and sent by Suraiya Pavirn Shelly, a senior assistant secretary of the land ministry, on November 17, 2008.

Nothing, however, has happened so far except formation of a new committee.

For several years both the Court of Wards and the Land Reform Board officially tried to convince the ministry that the land on which the housing project was developed belonged to them.

Now the ministry is again examining the flaws in survey laws and corruption in the matter upon which EWPD possesses the expensive land.

"But the probe stops at a certain stage as many officials don't want to dig into the matter," informs a land ministry official asking not to be identified.

The Court of Wards, official management committee of the estates of Bhawal and Dhaka Nawab, claims 202.76 acres of land equivalent to 12,165 kathas.

This land was first recorded as the property of the Bhawal estate in the Cadastral Survey (CS), concluded in 1940, that the first survey conducted in Bengal during the British rule.

According to the documents of the Court of Wards, now operating under the Land Reform Board since 1995, the Bhawal estate land under the Zowar Sahara Mauza, where a part of EWPD is situated, was never sold or its ownership was never transferred.

During the Revision Survey (RS) during the Pakistan time, the Land Survey and Record Directorate recorded the land of Bhawal estate under others' names though the real owner was the government itself, said Abdur Rauf.

"With meagre strength we could not follow up the huge property of the Bhawal estate. We checked all the documents during the Dhaka city land survey (1996-2003) and discovered that our land was recorded under others' names," he added.

Examining the papers, the Court of Wards learned about the property under Zowar Sahara Mauza and wrote a letter to the land ministry to take action in this regard, he continued.

According to the CS records, the EWPD occupied .32 acres under 3011 dag number, 5.75 acres under 3012 number, 16.89 acres under 3227 number, 20.86 acres under 3246 number, 90.12 acres under 3285 number, 11.93 acres under 3232 and 3411 numbers, 28.59 acres under 3189 and 3439 numbers, 4.27 acres under 1575 number and 12.5 acres under 3237 number.

As per the CS records, the EWPD has occupied total 202.76 acres of Bhawal estate land.

During the Dhaka city land survey, the Court of Wards filed 1,215 appeal petitions in 2003 with the Land Appellate Board to record the 202.76 acres of land under its name.

The ministry initially directed the Board to take necessary steps to record the land under the Court of Wards.

"When the hearing started the Bhawal estate won 166 cases and got back around 57 acres of land worth over Tk 300 crore," said the estate manager in a letter forwarded to the ministry during the caretaker rule.

As the hearing of the petitions was going on, Akbar Sobhan, chairman of EWPD, applied to the land minister to cancel those appeal petitions on October 16, 2003, says an annual report of the Bhawal Estate.

The then land minister instructed the land record and survey directorate to conduct an investigation into the land possessed by the EWPD.

Following an investigation the then land minister directed the land record and survey directorate to withdraw 1,049 cases under an office order (Land ministry/section 2/30/2003-824 on December 29, 2003) under East Bengal Tenancy Rules, 1955.

The ministry also cancelled the judgement of the 166 petition cases that went in favour of the Bhawal estate.

"So our demand was ignored by the land ministry and the government lost the huge property," said Abdur Rauf.

Some other housing companies and local influential people have also encroached on most of the 1,035 acres of land originally belonging to the Bhawal estate in Dhaka city in connivance with a section of corrupt land officials.

Benu Gopal Dey, the then director of Land Record and Survey Directorate, investigated the issue and submitted a report on November 22, 2003 where he recommended staying of hearing on the 1,049 cases.

Based on that report the then land minister ordered to withdraw the 1,049 cases under an office order.

On January 1, 2006 the case charge officer of the Land Appellate Board cancelled the judgment provided earlier in favour of the Court of Wards and accepted the appeal of the EWPD.

Benu Gopal Dey, now retired from the government service and working as a consultant, said he submitted his report according to the land survey law and a directive of the ministry that said not to accept any review petition as it "lingers" the land survey process.

"Whatever I did, I did in accordance with the law and available documents. I just followed the ministry's instructions," Benu told The Daily Star.

Interestingly, the former land minister and elderly BNP leader does not remember the matter.

"I am out of the office for a long time. I don't remember the fact clearly," he said.

"Now I don't have any options to examine the papers. So I cannot say anything about this," he added.

The EWPD started its residential project during 1984-85 developing around 3,000 acres of land, of which 202.76 acres of land belongs to the Bhawal estate out of 308 acres under the Zowar Sahara Mauza.

Despite repeated attempts, no top officials of EWPD were available for a comment on the issue. Finally, Deputy General Manager (DGM) Advocate Delowar Hossain was available for comments.

Asked about the issue, Delowar Hossain said they had bought the land from different people. After such a long time there should not be any presence or claims of the Court of Wards, he added.

"If the Court of Wards really possessed the land, why did not they claim it following the RR and SA surveys?" he asked.

The DGM also suggested that this correspondent forget about the demands of the Court of Wards saying it is not possible to check the land documents right now as the number of owners of that said land has crossed hundreds.

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Our country Bangladesh is owned 100% by BNP when they are in power and again 100% by Awami League when they come back to power.

But this kind of corruption goes unabated during both parties rule but more during BNP rules. Our news papers are the only ones who dig into this kind of corruption. Kindly continue into following on this matter so that corruption does not win in this case and for that matter in any case, your news papers are digging into.

: Azhar Ali
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