A total of 17 families of policemen now occupy the Abdur Rahman Hall of Jagannath University in Armanitola of Old Dhaka. Photo: Palash Khan
The plaque atop its tall, arch-like entrance says the British era building in Armanitola is Abdur Rahman Hall. But one gets puzzled to find young children chattering on its courtyard and women busy doing their household chores. Then it soon becomes clear that the two-storey building on AC Roy Road is now occupied by 17 families of police personnel.
In different parts of Old Dhaka, 10 other halls where students of the then Jagannath College (now a university) lived are now under the occupation of influential people, including a lawmaker, an ex-ward commissioner, businessmen with political clout and local Awami League leaders.
When locals in old town evicted the students from Abdur Rahman Hall and other halls in 1985 (read the story), police first came to guard it. In time, they started spending nights there on occasions and gradually moved their families in.
Meantime in 2007, a charity called Menon Anjuman secured a High Court order in favour of its claim on the building on 25.77 kathas of land.
But that is not all. A man named Billal Sheikh has long been staking his claim to the building, said a police officer, who lives in Abdur Rahman Hall for about 25 years.
"But either of them has yet to get hold of the property as several cases are pending in this regard," he added, requesting not to be named.
The hall issue came up as Jagannath University students launched a movement for recovering the dormitories from "illegal occupants".
The movement began on February 12, with the demand for recovering Tibet Hall, a part of which is occupied by Dhaka-7 lawmaker Haji Mohammad Selim. Later, the students demanded that the 10 other halls too be returned to them.
In 2011, Habibur Rahman Hall was recovered from illegal occupants following a similar student movement.
The police have even painted a sign on the gate to assert their control over the student dormitory. Photo: Palash Khan
The university authorities alleged that Selim, also a Dhaka city AL leader, grabbed a portion of the 8.89 katha land of Tibet Hall in Waisghat and built a multi-storey market, Gulshan Ara City Shopping Complex, there.
Opposite Ahsan Manzil, it is one of the biggest and busiest wholesale cloth markets in old town.
Talking to The Daily Star, Selim denied that the university ever owned the land. "If they can show me documents to prove their ownership, I will hand it over to them."
The Crown Bhaban at Patuatuli where the college staff once lived is now a busy market. Locals say former Chhatra Dal leader Sagir Ahmed, who was shot dead in 2005 by rivals, had a vital role in occupying the hall in 1985.
Ever since, the Crown Market has seen at least three "owners," the current one being Altaf Haji, a businessman of Chawk area in old town. He bought it from MA Hasan in 2009, said the market's caretaker, who once lived in the building as college staff.
The six-storey electronic market has over 60 shops, each rented out for Tk 5,000-15,000 a month. This is in addition to the one-time payment for the possession and security money of up to Tk 10 lakh.
On the student's demand, a shop owner said, "Mere demanding will not do, they have to show papers."
The original structure of Shaheed Ajmal Hossain Hall on 5.05 kathas of land on Romakanta Nandi Lane remains unchanged. But it is now "owned" by powerful locals, who used the name of a freedom fighter to occupy it.
Then there is Shaheed Nazrul Islam Hall on Gopimohon Basak Lane. A portion of its one Bigha (20 katha) area now houses an orphanage, a perfect cover to keep possession without raising any question. The hall on the other portion has been rented out.
Former ward commissioner Awlad Hossain Dilip, who looks after the orphanage, claimed Rahela Khatun donated the land to the orphanage in 1988. He said he was proud to be the "guardian" of the orphans.
Asked where he gets the money to run the orphanage, he pointed towards the sky and said, "Allah provides for them."
Opposite the orphanage are Saidur Rahman and Abdur Rauf Majumdar halls on Jadunath Basak Lane. Now, a market stands on the 22.97 katha land of the two halls, but their current owners could not be traced. A report of an audit firm, hired by the university in 2007 to locate its properties, says the land is under the occupation of "some private parties."
Shaheed Shahabuddin Hall on Radhika Mohon Basak Lane in Tanti Bazar had first been occupied by members of Ansar and then police who lived with their families there for years.
An eight-storey residential building has been built on the 4.09 katha land of the hall. All of its 21 apartments, completed in 2011, were sold for about Tk 40 lakh each.
A signboard attached to the wall cites a court order to claim the ownership of Farhana Haq Gong. It identifies Farhana as the sister of Aminul Haq Biplob.
Biplob is the publicity secretary of Lalbagh AL, according to Babu, manager of the apartment.
Afroza Khan, a flat owner, said she bought the apartment upon assurances from the owners. “We will suffer a lot if we have to give away the flat.”
In Malitola, the 4.40 katha land of Bazlur Rahman Hall was taken over by Dhaka City Corporation. In 2006, the DCC built Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman High School there.
Six warehouses have been built by as many "owners" on the 40 katha land of Shaheed Anwar Shafiq Hall on SR Chakrabarty Road in Armanitola. A businessman who rented a warehouse said he pays Tk 25,000 a month.
One of the "owners" is Liakat Babu, said a source.
Babu runs a chemical business -- Perfumers and Packers -- near Babu Bazar Bridge. The Daily Star tried to contact him at his office and also over the phone for comment, but in vain.
A part of Bani Bhaban on Pyaridas Road, where Hindu students lived, now houses two printing presses. The old building on 10.09 katha land remains and some university staff still live there, said sources.
KM Hasan Juberi, one of the seven siblings who claim to be the owners of the portion, said they inherited the land from their father, KM Haider Hossain.
"If the university can prove its claim, we will leave," he added.
Mijanur Rahman, vice-chancellor of the university, said the process of recovering Bani Bhaban is underway and hoped the university would recover it soon. "We are trying to recover the other halls as well."
He highlighted the accommodation problems of the students, saying female students don't want to get admitted to the university, as it currently cannot offer them accommodation.
"We urge the government to take steps to recover the dormitories and solve the accommodation problem of the students and the staff," he told The Daily Star on Friday.
Meanwhile, the students have stepped up their movement to reclaim all the halls. They will march towards Shaheed Ajmal Hossain Hall this morning.
"We expect support from all, including the government, during our peaceful demonstration," said Shariful Islam, president of Jagannath University Chhatra League.
To express solidarity with the movement, university teachers will continue their indefinite strike that began on Thursday.
"Teachers will not hold classes for five hours since 11:00am," said Sarkar Ali Akkas, president of the university teachers association.
However, morning classes and all the exams will remain out the purview of the strike.