Grabbing of Bangladesh Railway land goes unabated, especially in urban areas, even after repeated eviction drives were conducted.
According to statistics of the railway’s Dhaka and Chattogram divisions, recovered lands were occupied again at various places after the eviction drives.
New Age also found that railway land grab continued in the same areas of the capital after repeated eviction drives.
Experts said that illegal occupation of land beside rail tracks was risky for people and train operation alike.
Railway minister Nurul Islam Sujan has recently told New Age that they received allegations of reoccupation of recovered land and even infrastructures, adding that this situation was more prevalent in urban areas compared to rural areas.
He also said that ‘goons, influential people, union parishad chairmen and members’ benefitted from building markets on railway land.
‘We will evict them and bring back all such properties under railway control,’ he said.
Occupation and re-occupation of railway land and infrastructures like stations are very common in Bangladesh. The railway’s Dhaka–Narayanganj section from Kamalapur (Dhaka) via Gandaria, Shyampur, Pagla, Fatullah and Chashara to Narayanganj is one of the most vivid examples of railway land grab.
On Friday afternoon it was a busy weekend day in the Jurain rail gate area with makeshift shops selling fruits, clothes and consumer products on both sides of the single-line rail track on the Dhaka–Narayanganj section.
Even a CNG-powered auto-rickshaw stand was seen operating right on the rail track.
It was a chaotic situation on and around the rail gate with people everywhere, including on the rail line.
Alauddin, a local youth taking care of his uncle’s makeshift shop by the track, said that the railway department regularly conducted eviction drives in the area but once the drive ended the shops got back to their positions.
Khairul, a vendor who sat on the same spot with his merchandise, said that locals went there to buy things and train movement could do little to prevent them from doing that.
Some vendors alleged that they had to pay local influential people money to run their business there.
A similar situation was found beside the rail tracks in Gandaria and Karwan Bazar areas.
According to Bangladesh Railway statistics, between July 29, 2019 and October 13, 2020 10 eviction drives were conducted on the Dhaka–Narayanganj section when 22.77 acres of land were recovered by demolishing 3,184 illegal structures.
The drive cost the railway department Tk 4.71 lakh.
The railway conducted two drives in Jurain area during this period.
On August 26, 2019, the railway recovered 3.58 acres of land by demolishing 405 illegal structures at a cost of Tk 23,750 and on September 12 the same year 2.05 acres of land were recovered by demolishing 172 structures at a cost of Tk 21,375 in the area.
A senior railway official told New Age that grabbing of railway land continued unabated along the Dhaka–Narayanganj section.
On Tuesday, the railway carried out an eviction drive in the section’s Shyampur station area when they recovered 1.75 acres of land and demolished 160 structures at a cost of Tk 20,000.
According to the railway department, during the last five fiscal years, between July 2015 and June 2020, the department conducted 632 eviction drives in its all four divisions — Dhaka, Chattogram, Paksey and Lalmonirhat — at a cost of Tk 1.87 crore when it recovered 1,015.7313 acres of land and demolished 1,28,655 illegal structures.
Officials said that illegal structures were re-built at many places in Dhaka and Chattogram divisions after the eviction drives.
In the last five fiscal years, the railway’s Dhaka division recovered 321.795 acres of land and demolished 37,853 structures in 227 drives that cost Tk 60.1 lakh.
The Chattogram division recovered 184.5313 acres of land and evicted 58,609 structures in 154 drives which cost Tk 65.25 lakh.
By conducting 181 drives the railway freed 401.02 acres of land and demolished 24,858 structures at a cost of Tk 47.6 lakh in Paksey division.
In Lalmonirhat division, the department freed 108.385 acres of land and evicted 7,335 structures at a cost of Tk 14.52 lakh.
According to the railway’s estate department, till January this year, 3,213 acres of its land — 2,731 acres in the West Zone and 482 acres in the East Zone — were occupied by grabbers.
Professor Mizanur Rahman, director of Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told New Age that illegal occupation of land beside rail tracks was very risky for both people and movement of trains.
He said that most of the train accidents took place in the capital due to illegal land occupation by rail tracks and added that the access to the tracks should be controlled by installing fences or permanent structures.
Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust project officer Md Atiqur Rahman alleged that after the recovery of land the railway did not monitor the recovered land making it easy for re-occupation of the land.
‘The railway authorities should have engaged local representatives in the eviction drive as actually they benefit from illegal occupation,’ he also alleged.
The railway should also have plans for sustainable use of the recovered land, he viewed.
Railway minister Nurul Islam Sujan on October 8 told New Age that because of the past negligence there was frustration among railway employees leading to the current mismanagement.
‘Between 1970 and 1975 the Railway had around 70,000 employees but it had now around 25,000,’ he said, adding, ‘Currently 107 railway stations are shut in an unsafe condition with no manpower.’
Different categories of people often grab railway lands and this tendency is more prevalent in urban areas, he continued.
‘Our main objective is to bring back our lands under a proper management and control for generating revenue,’ the minister said.
He said that without making a person — such as a small tea-stall owner — unemployed both the railway and the tea seller could benefit if the railway could obtain revenue from that person.
There are many people who are said to be goons, influential people, (UP) members, chairmen who have built markets on railway land and benefit from those, the minister said.
He said that the railway did not get anything from them and it had zero tolerance for them.
The minister admitted that they received complaints about re-grabbing of their lands and for that they asked the railway to prepare a comprehensive plan for protecting the railway land.
He said that they were considering a plan of erecting fences on the boundaries of railway land and other plans for using railway land for development work.
News Courtesy: www.newagebd.net