A historical resting place for the dead on Noakhali district's Hatiya Island, unique for containing a graveyard and a cremation ground side-by-side, might soon become a distant memory as land grabbers are slowly devouring it amidst the apparent nonchalance of the authorities concerned.
In the last three months some 30 illegal tin-shed and concrete structures have crept up on nearly one third of the 34-decimal land beside Sagoria Bazar of Burir Char union. It is the only public funeral ground in the area.
Noakhali Zonal Settlement Office records show it was registered some 50 years back as public property to be maintained and supervised by the deputy commissioner. Of the area, 20 decimals were allotted for burials and the rest for cremation services.
Locals of all beliefs have a great deal of reverence for the grounds which they say contain the bodies of several generations of important local and religious figures.
“One of the buildings is on top of my maternal grandfather, my father and my elder brother,” lamented a local sexagenarian, Kartik Chandra Das.
Concerned about Sonali Bank's plans to lease space in that building, Das sent letters to senior bank officials in Dhaka, Chittagong and Comilla on April 14, as well as to the local branch manager.
He requested Sonali Bank to respect the government's land demarcation and not open a branch there. He has, however, received no response. The Sonali Bank branch on the cremation ground looks set to open next month.
The Daily Star managed to contact one person who had erected several of the structures. He categorically claimed that he had built those on his ancestral land.
The records are wrong, he added, saying that he had in this regard filed a case, being heard at Noakhali District Judge's Court.
On behalf of the local community, resident Reja Ali Mobarak submitted a complaint to the deputy commissioner of Noakhali on June 18 who forwarded it to Md Mamun, Hatiya's assistant commissioner (land).
Mamun told The Daily Star that he had immediately afterwards sent a surveyor to the site to get the real picture.
On being asked what the findings were, he started complaining of staff shortages and of having his hands full dealing with a backlog of cases. At one point, he claimed to be at a hearing and said he would be available for comments after September 10. He then cut off the phone.