Around 40 Hindu families in Chittagong's Patiya upazila are passing their days in fear of eviction from ancestral land as the Roads and Highway Department (RHD) has asked them to leave the land for giving way to a road project.
RHD threatened that their houses would be "demolished" if they did not leave the land, in Nathpara of Karal village.
The land was “acquired” to build a bypass road from Indrapol to Chakrashala in Patiya on Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Highway. The 5.1km road would pass thorough Patiya, Karal, Bhatikhine, and Kachuai of the upazila.
This correspondent recently visited the locality and found that most families of Nathpara were poor, with women weaving mats and the men selling those in the market to make a living. Some pull rickshaws and some are day-labourers. They dwell in either thatched or clay houses. Once displaced, they fear, they would become homeless.
Day-labourer Putul Nath said the government offered Tk 35,000 for a gonda (864 square feet) of land in 2012 as compensation while the market price was Tk 2.4 lakh. “How would we purchase a land to build a house?”
Another resident, Monoranjan Nath, said they were passing their days in fear since RHD officials asked them to leave their houses through the loudspeaker on December 2.
Locals said if the design of the project was slightly changed, their houses would be saved.
Subhashananda Abodhut, principal of Mohananda Sebashram in the area, said the design was changed once in 2008 following instruction of the deputy commissioner of Chittagong to save the ashram and the houses after locals requested him.
However, defying his instruction, the new design was drawn over the 40 houses, he said. “If the road is shifted just 250 yards in the design, the houses would be saved.”
Contacted, Shamsul Arefin, DC of Chittagong, said he did not know the matter clearly. “I would see the papers and discuss the matter with the officials concerned and locals.”
Nathpara residents said local Awami League lawmaker Shamsul Haque Chowdhury in a letter to the project director on March 13, 2009 opined that it would be better if the design was changed keeping the crematorium and houses safe. He also suggested that the bypass should go through the open land on the northern side of the crematorium.
Contacted, Shamsul said if the demand of Nathpara people was accepted, the project would have to be deferred for “two more years”; moreover, the project was approved by Ecnec and so there was “no scope” for changing the design right now.
Asked why he wrote to the project director, Shamsul said he “tried” his best but the design could not be changed. “We will rehabilitate them on government khas land.”
Additional Chief Engineer of RHD, Chittagong zone, Bidhan Chandra Dhar, said, “We cannot change an alignment whimsically.”
“There are some rules for setting curves… it's a four-lane road project… the degree of the road's curve is dependent on the speed of vehicles.”
“It's the third design. The first two were cancelled following the demand of locals to save the ashram,” he said. “If we change the present design, it'll need fresh land acquisition and the cost of the project would go up.”
Contacted, Rana Das Gupta, general secretary of Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, said the project was taken to “straighten the curve of the road” but the road would get “curvier” if the present design was implemented.
He said the local lawmaker wrote to the project director to save the houses when he was newly elected in 2009 but now he had “changed” his voice, which was “mysterious”.
“Why would the road have to go over the houses whereas there is an abundance of open land in the area?” he asked, alleging, “It was done to save the lands of some influential quarters.”
If changing the design takes time, it has to be done, he said. “No project should harm people.”
Meanwhile, a team of representatives of the Nathpara residents is now in Dhaka to meet Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader and convey their fears, said team leader Subhashananda Abodhut.