12:00 AM, May 09, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Legally right, morally not

Legally right, morally not

Shakhawat Liton

Sheikh Rehana had demonstrated "generosity" to the people in 2012 by returning a house on more than one bigha of land in Dhanmondi residential area to its real owner -- the State. She did not need to wait much to get a return for her "generosity".
The current government, led by her elder sister Sheikh Hasina, has completed the process to allocate her another State-owned house -- in this instance rather a bigger one -- on one and a half bighas of land in the city's Gulshan area.
She had been given the privilege to buy the Dhanmondi house in 2001 at a token price of Tk 101 for being the daughter of the nation's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This time, she has been given the same  privilege to buy the house in Gulshan at a token price of Tk 1001.
Public Works Secretary Md Golam Rabbani said the handover process is underway at the Dhaka divisional commissioner's office and it is likely to be completed within a week or so.
One may not term unlawful the allocation of house no- NEL(2)/10 on Road-84 in Gulshan. The allocation is being processed under a special law like on the previous occasion. But the crucial question is on the ground of morality -- whether the government can give privileges and state facilities to a very few individuals by enacting special laws.
The previous Hasina-led government at the fag end of its tenure had passed the father of the nation's family members' security act in 2001. And only a few days before the expiry of its tenure, the cabinet in July 2001 had decided and allocated Rehana the Dhanmondi house which she had used to accommodate her personal staff.
The cabinet had also allocated Hasina the Gono Bhaban, the official residence of the prime minister. The allocations had triggered huge uproar. In face of huge criticism, Hasina had left the Gono Bhaban by handing over power to a caretaker government.
The story took a new turn with the changeover of power in October 2001. After assuming power for a second time, the Khaleda Zia-led government in December 2001 scrapped the law related to the security of the family members of Bangabandhu and cancelled the allocations of the houses to Hasina and Rehana.
The BNP-led government handed the Dhanmondi house to the home ministry in March 2003 to set up the local police station there.  
Rehana had filed a writ petition with the High Court challenging the Khaleda Zia-government's decision to cancel the allocation of the house to her.
After her elder sister assumed office for a second term in 2009, the government offered her the house, but Rehana declined to take it back. She had even withdrawn her petition and returned the house to the housing ministry.
On the occasion of returning the house on March 10, 2012 at Gono Bhaban, Rehana said: “I am a              daughter of the father of the nation. I do not want anything more than that. I want to spend the rest of my life with the love of the people of Bangladesh.”
In her instant reaction, Sheikh Hasina had said the handover of the house to the housing ministry had freed her of a burden.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith, who was present at the occasion, expressed his gratitude to Rehana for her “generosity”.
IGP Hasan Mahmud Khandker on that occasion said the police had wanted to return the house to Rehana after the Hasina-led Awami League assumed power. “But she did not accept our offer. As long as the police force uses the house [in Dhanmondi], it will remember with gratitude her precious donation to the force.”
Over three years before Rehana returned the house, the AL-led government, however, has again paved the way for the allocation of a house to her and other members of Bangabandhu's family.
Assuming office for a second term in January 2009, the Sheikh Hasina-led government enacted again a special law related to the security of the family members of the father of the nation in October 2009. The law offers lifelong special security to Hasina and Rehana and their children. It also asks the government to provide each of them with safe residences.
The 2001 law had included only Hasina and Rehana as the family members of Bangabandhu. But the 2009 law has included their children too. So, under the current law, the government is also legally bound to provide Hasina and each of the members of the father of the nation's family with secure houses.
The law also asks the government to provide Hasina, Rehana and their five children with lifelong security, considering them as very important persons under the Special Security Force (SSF) Ordinance, 1982, and to give them other facilities.
The government, however, has yet to clarify whether it will allocate houses to other family members of the father of the nation.
Its move to allocate a house to Rehana may trigger controversy and uproar in the public domain, particularly when her arch political foe Khaleda Zia was made to relinquish her Dhaka Cantonment residence with the Hasina-led immediate past government scrapping the house's allocation in 2010. Now the allocation of a house for Rehana may make it appear that the Hasina government's decision to cancel the allocation of Khaleda's house was a manifestation of political vendetta.



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