The housing and public works ministry has approved the filling up of over 8,000 acres of flood flow zones and farmlands around the capital, ignoring the caution voiced by the prime minister.
A seven-member ministerial committee headed by Housing Minister Mosharraf Hossain approved the destructive plan on Monday, virtually to help illegal private housing companies implement about a dozen housing schemes.
It was the second such approval in three months, and is in violation of a number of laws, including the environment law.
Presiding over a cabinet meeting earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina discussed at length the devastating consequences of filling up the flood flow zones and wetlands and warned the housing minister against making any such move, said a minister who attended the cabinet meeting.
“I know you will do it and succumb to the wealthy land developers. But do not do it,” the minister quoted the PM as telling Mosharraf Hossain.
Contacted, the housing minister said, “What's wrong if flood zones are filled up, when even seas are filled up to build structures? … Are you an engineer? I am an engineer and I know better all about it.”
Asked why he had ignored the PM's advice in this regard, Mosharraf said, “She [Hasina] did not forbid me to fill up flood flow zones for housing.”
Flood flow zones and farmlands are earmarked in the 1,528 square-kilometre Detailed Area Plan (DAP) of Dhaka city for planned urban development, conservation of environment and ecology, flood water drainage and urban livability.
Officials said some influential land developers had reached an underhand deal with the housing minister, Rajuk Chairman GM Jainal Abedin Bhuiyan, its board member Sheikh Abdul Mannan and town planner Sirajul Islam to secure the approval.
An eight-member technical committee led by Sheikh Abdul Mannan first recommended the destructive plan and then secured the ministerial committee's approval, said official sources.
Rajuk town planner Sirajul Islam is the member secretary of the technical committee.
But the housing minister dismissed the charge that there was a covert deal with land developers. “An Awami League minister cannot enter into any underhand deal.”
Filling up of flood flow zones is prohibited in the wetland conservation law passed during the previous tenure of the Hasina government.
Planner-architect Khandaker M Ansar Hossain, who was involved in formulating the DAP as a technical expert, said floodplains were crucial for carrying and containing upstream flood water and conserving environment.
Filling them up will cause severe floods and paralyse normal life and livelihood of city people. It will block the drainage and transport system, affect human health and prevent groundwater replenishment, he added.
The destruction of the flood zones will badly affect the environment and ecological system, including flora and fauna, displace local communities, break supply chain of crops, vegetables and fish and expedite earthquakes, putting human settlements in danger, said a former top town planner of Rajuk.
Of the approved housing projects, four were proposed by East West Property Development. Three of them are in Keraniganj -- Riverview, Bashundhara Riverview Dakhina and Bashundhara City View -- and one in Savar.
Riverview is proposed on approximately 2,500 acres of flood flow zones, Dakhina on 700 acres and Bashundhara City View on 550 acres. The Savar project on 2,000 acres of flood flow zones is in Birulia, Pipulia, Sarulia, Uttar Kaundia, Bara Kakar, Uttar Ulumora and Chhoto Oalia moujas.
Three schemes of Bangladesh Development Company are South Town proposed on some 1,100 acres of flood flow zone in Keraniganj, East Town on 400 acres of agricultural land in Madanpur in Narayanganj and North Town on 100 acres of flood flow zone in Tongi.
Eastern Maya Kanon of Eastern Housing is proposed on around 800 acres of flood flow zone in Bilamalia mouja in Savar, where a similar housing scheme, Modhumoti Model Town, was declared illegal by the High Court.
Probashi Polli project proposed on 90 acres of flood flow zone and developed by land filling the Nagda river at Narayankul in Gazipur has also got approval.
In early June, the same ministerial committee endorsed the filling up of extensive flood flow zones in Rupganj and by the Turag river to facilitate Jolshiri Abashan for the army and Protyasha Housing for retired government officials.
None of these projects are allowed under the relevant laws. The High Court in June 2011 declared 77 such projects in and around the capital illegal and asked the government to scrap those and remove all the illegal structures from there.
Asked about the approval, Environment Minister Anwar Hossain Manju, who is a member of the ministerial committee on the DAP, said, “I came out of the meeting soon after it began, as I could sense what was going to happen there.”
Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud too left the meeting immediately, he claimed.
Rajuk town planner Sirajul Islam said they recommended housing schemes on flood flow zones as those were already filled up and were no longer flood flow zones. "Besides, there was pressure from the higher authorities.”
He, however, denied favouring land developers.
Asked about the alleged underhand deal, Rajuk board member Sheikh Abdul Mannan said, "This is the first time I'm hearing about the deal."
On recommending filling up the designated flood zones, he said, "We may have some failures in this regard."
After repeated calls and several text messages, Rajuk Chairman GM Jainal Abedin Bhuiyan just sent a text message, saying: “In a meeting.”
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said altering the nature of land this way -- like turning a hill into a river or a river into a highland -- is absolutely illegal.
Neither the Town Improvement Act nor the wetland conservation law empowers the technical committee or the ministerial committee to do it, she added.