Many real estate companies are involved in various forms of land grab, destruction of water bodies and wet lands under the nose of the authorities. The illegal dumping of sand in cropland at Sonargaon in Narayanganj is a striking example of this. Flouting a court order, the Unique Property Development Ltd continues with illegal earth-filling there. In 2009, the real estate agency began dumping sand on field and wetland to develop a resort on the bank of the River Meghna, forcing people to sell their ancestral land at throw-away prices. It began the project without environment department approval and licence from the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority. In 2011, a mobile court fined the company for damaging the ecosystem and ordered it to halt all its activities. The mobile court even asked the developer to restore the farmland by removing sand, yet the group continued with its activities. The most recent order of the Appellate Division came in the context of protracted legal battle against the developer. The way the developer has been flouting court orders for years raises serious concern about the role of authorities concerned.
Local people complained that the illegal dumping of sand has risked their livelihood. Farmland of at least 10,000 people of 10 villages at Sonargaon went under layers of sand dumped by the group. The developer evicted the farmers who refused to sell their land. Even after the recent Appellate Division order, the group continues with its activities. On August 14, a four-judge bench of the Appellate Division presided over by the chief justice directed the Narayanganj deputy commissioner to stop the ongoing earth-filling and submit a compliance report by early October. The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association chief executive termed it a fresh contempt of court and such groups could get away with flouting court orders as the authorities are complicit and indifferent. Asked about the violation of court order, the deputy commissioner pleaded ignorance about the illegal earth-filling. Environmental activists actively advocating for the rights of local farmers blamed the district administration for being intentionally and wilfully ignorant so that such illegal, profiteering but environmentally damaging activities can continue.
The illegal earth-filling at Sonargaon is not an isolated incident. Most of the water bodies, particularly the canal system in Dhaka, have been subjected to such land-grab and earth-filling by property developers and the authorities concerned failed to protect them. In fact, their indifference and complicity have prompted such companies to continue with their illegal activities as happened in the case of the Unique Group. The government must take action against the negligent officials for serving the interest of profit-seeking real state groups and for their failure to protect wetland and farmland.