Locals on a char of the Padma in Pabna’s Sagarkand claim that they own the land the government allocated for a solar power plant and are demanding compensation for their loss of land and livelihood.
They are producing documents issued by a surveyor last year as evidence for their claim, while the local administration maintains that the land is government property.
The dispute ensued when Pabna district administration allotted 205 acres of “khas” land at Ramakantapur Mouja of Sagarkandi union in Pabna’s Sujanagar upazila to North West Power Generation Company Ltd (NWPGCL) on September 30 this year for Tk 15.25 crore.
The company has taken the initiative to install a 60-megawatt solar power plant as part of government’s plan to reach a target of generating 10 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2020 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Locals, who have been living on the char and farming there for many years, started agitation soon after the allocation was made demanding compensation for their loss of livelihoods.
They claimed that around 100 households and 400 farmers depend on the land for their livelihoods.
When this correspondent visited the proposed plant area, it found that the locals tore off the signboard of the company set up at the project site.
“We have been farming on the char for over four decades. I have been cultivating on 19 bigha (7.6 acres) in Ramakantapur mouja. Suddenly the land was acquired for construction of a power plant without considering farmers’ interest,” said farmer Arshed Ali Sardar.
Like him, farmer Abdur Razzak Mridha claimed that he inherited 15 bighas (6 acres) of land and this was his only source of income.
“The land has already been acquired for the power plant but we did not get any compensation,” Abdur Razzak said.
Arshed and Abdur Razzak both showed some old documents and maps pertaining to a time period before the 1950s.
However, Pabna Deputy Commissioner Kabir Mahmud claimed that there were no such documents in government records.
He told The Daily Star that no one came to them with any title deeds related to the char, and their investigation shows the entire shoal was government khas land.
“Char-Ramakantapur mouja has 283.40 acres of khas land which is entirely government property. The district administration has allotted 205 acres of the khas land for the solar power plant project following the government rules and regulations,” said the deputy commissioner.
He said there was no question of providing compensation to the farmers because the government has used its own property for the project.
Meanwhile, Torab Mondol, another farmer, claimed that he received a token for 2.66 acres of land in his possession from surveyor Nazrul Islam of Rajshahi Zonal Settlement Office under the Land Record and Survey Department in 2018 during a survey (diara-jarip) of the river land.
Torab said, “When the diara jarip [a survey] of the char land was conducted in the area last year, a surveyor of the Rajshahi divisional settlement office issued token to the possession holders of the land.”
At least 100 farmers received the tokens, claimed the villagers.
The Daily Star has copies of eight such tokens, a piece of paper with the sign and seal of the surveyor, the name of a farmer, two line numbers (touji daag and hal daag) and the size of the land.
“Most of the possession holders paid Tk 4,000 to get a token. Several hundred char people paid the amount during the survey,” alleged Rokon Bishwas, a resident of Sagarkandi village.
Talking to The Daily Star, surveyor Nazrul said the tokens issued have no legal validity.
“It is not a legal document. We just identified and made a list of people who have possession of the land. We did that to mark the area,” he said refuting the locals’ claim of taking money for the tokens.
“This area was part of the river and no survey was ever carried out here.
Our survey showed that the individuals do not own any land there. The whole char is government khas land,” he added.
Meanwhile, officials of the North West Power Generation Company Ltd, said solar power generation is a priority for the government as it is eyeing to achieve the SDG goal.
Asked about the compensation claims by the farmers, the company officials said it was not their responsibility to compensate the farmers because the company has acquired khas land paying the government.