The government's Ashrayan project has been lauded for rehabilitating hundreds of destitute people in different districts. But often times the commendable effort has been tainted by allegations of corruption by a handful of dishonest individuals.
A number of beneficiaries of Ashrayan-2, undertaken to build houses for insolvent land owners, alleged that they had to bribe local public representatives or people affiliated with the ruling party to enlist their names in the project in Natore's Naldanga upazila.
In Piprul union, many villagers alleged that they had to pay Tk 20,000 to Tk 25,000 bribe to either Delwar Hossain, a member of local Union Parishad (UP), or Mosharraf Karim, a Jubo League leader in the area, for enlisting each household in the Ashrayan-2 project.
Many villagers of Kaliganj Sarakpara in the union said names of some of the eligible villagers, who could not comply with their illegal demands, were excluded from the list of the project that is assigned with the slogan “Ashrayaner Odhikar Sheikh Hasinar Upohar” (right to housing is a gift from Sheikh Hasina).
They also complained of including names of solvent land owners in the list in exchange for bribe.
Villager Jamena Begum, wife of Fazal Ali, said she paid UP Member Delwar Tk 25,000 for a house in Ashrayan-2.
“Delwar member took Tk 25,000 from me for giving me a house [under the project],” said Babu Hossain, from the same village.
Both of them said they had to sell their cattle to arrange the bribe money.
Abbas Ali, another resident of the village, said he also paid Tk 25,000 to the same UP member with the money he borrowed for the purpose from an NGO.
Ahad Ali of the village claimed that he could only arrange Tk 4,000 for local Jubo League leader Mosharraf. But since he failed to pay another Tk 16,000 as per Mosharraf's demand, his name was dropped from the list and the money he had paid was never returned.
After this correspondent reached for his comments, UP Member Delwar Hossain refuted the accusations and claimed that those were conspiracies against him.
However, he admitted that he had received two houses -- one for himself and the other for his mother -- in Ashrayan-2 as they both fall under insolvent category.
Contacted, Sakib Al Rabbi, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of Naldanga, said he was not aware of the alleged irregularities in the project and he would take necessary action if a written complaint was filed with his office.
Similar allegations of irregularities were made by villagers when this correspondent visited villages in four other unions -- Biprobelghoria, Khajura, Madhnagar and Brahmapur -- of the upazila.
Sixty-year-old panhandler Akbar Ali, from Ramshar Kazipur village in Biprobelghoria, said UP Member Bebi Begum took Tk 20,000 bribe even from a person like him, who has to beg for food and alms.
Rehana Begum and Aleya Begum, from the same village, also had complaints against Bebi Begum.
Rehana said she was compelled to pay the UP member Tk 20,000 for a house in the project, while Aleya said Bebi did not enlist her name as she was unable to pay her the amount.
Refuting the allegations, Bebi however said she only collected Tk 2,000 to Tk 4,000 from each 17 applicants who were applying for the government's Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) card.
Patasi Sing of Adibashipara in Madhnagar union said she and many others in the village had to pay Tk 5,000 to workers of the project for each house.
In Brahmapur union, 70-year-old Younus Ali of Yarpur village alleged that UP Member Moktar Hossain Nipu did not return the Tk 4,000 that he had borrowed from him before enlisting his name in the list. Moreover, Moktar has been demanding more money from him in exchange for the house in the project.
Rafiq Uddin of the same village, despite paying Tk 3,000 to Moktar, said he had no complaint against him as “he always helps” them.
Regarding allegations of bribery in Khajura union, UP Chairman Khalilur Rahman said although he is aware of such allegations against some local leaders and UP members, he was unable to take any action as “they are very powerful”.
Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Natore Mohammad Shahriaz said he was not aware of any irregularities in the Ashrayan project.
He also said action would be taken once a written compliant is received in this regard.