About 447 acres of Bangladesh Railway (BR) land and around 1,500 rail quarters in Saidpur municipality have remained under illegal occupation for years.
The occupiers are so powerful that the authorities concerned are yet to remove illegal structures from railway land, said locals, adding that two eviction drives were suspended in face of obstruction by the occupants on February 8 and 15. Any fresh date for eviction drive is yet to be announced.
Established in 1870, Saidpur railway workshop is one of the largest and best equipped workshops in the country. A vast tract of land surrounding Saidpur town is inhabited mostly by Urdu speaking people.
Of 799 acres of BR land, 447 acres and 1,500 out of 2,488 rail quarters in the municipality have remained under illegal occupation, said Md Ahasanuddin, assistant executive engineer of West Zone of Bangladesh Railway at Saidpur.
During a recent visit to the BR land, this correspondent found high-rise buildings, residential hotels, factories, business centers and houses on both sides of busy Shahid Zikrul Haque and Shahid Shamsul Haque roads in the area. Those have been rented out for different national and multinational companies, banks, insurances and traders.
"A strong syndicate comprising some rail workers' union leaders and a few corrupt rail officials blessed by a section of political leaders have been involved in building the illegal structures on BR land," said Abdul Huque, a social activist.
"Over the last few years, some eviction drives have been conducted, but the drives were simply eyewash as few makeshift roadside structures of poor people were demolished only in the drives," said Abdul Huque.
During the 15 February's drive, when the eviction team, led by Divisional Estate Officer in West Zone (WZ) of BR Md Nuruzzaman, went to Halder para area where occupants constructed buildings to use it as residence and business centre, the occupiers and their men encircled the team.
Without demolition of any illegal structure, the team left the area and came to local railway market and faced obstruction by the occupants. The occupiers then sprayed pepper powder on the team.
Two organisations named Odhikar and Bastohara mainly run by local political leaders are very active here in protecting rights of people living on the occupied BR land.
General Manager of BR in WZ Mihir Kanti Guha said "We have suspended eviction drives in Saidpur as per directives of higher authorities. Soon we will announce a new date for eviction drive."