We're shocked by the defiant and seemingly coordinated manner in which all parties involved with the Modhumoti Model Town have been flouting a Supreme Court verdict to dismantle the 550-acre housing project. According to an investigative report by The Daily Star, the developers continue operations despite a ban in August 2012 by the highest court that upheld a July 2005 directive by the High Court declaring the project "illegal" and "unauthorised". The project sits on land belonging to wetlands in Bilamalia and Baliarpur mouzas of Savar that serve as flood-control reservoirs vital to the capital's water management. In its full verdict released in 2013, the Appellate Division directed Metro Makers & Developers Ltd., the project owner, to restore the wetland within six months. Far from complying with the order, the project continues to operate to date, under a new name, while the higher authorities including Rajuk and the housing ministry continue to entertain them.
The ministry recently took it a step further by sending a letter to Rajuk asking it to take steps to include the project land as an "urban area" in the Detailed Area Plan (DAP), following an application by the plot owners. This, we must say, constitutes executive overreach in a clear disregard for the Supreme Court verdict, one that, if carried through by Rajuk, would set a bad precedent for how to approach future court orders and also have grave consequences for the wetlands and those who depend on them. Wetlands and such water bodies play an important role in our life by holding deluge, and when we lose a wetland from our landscape, we lose this very important service. Protecting wetlands is also critical for biodiversity. Alarmingly, disappearing wetlands are increasingly being viewed as collateral damage in our mindless upward movement to development. The land in question is identified as floodplain in the 1997 Dhaka City Master Plan, and it is crucial that it remains so regardless of any attempt to change its status by the government and real estate companies.
We understand the importance of protecting the interests of the ordinary plot buyers. In fact, in its verdict, the apex court had ordered the project owners to double-refund all plot buyers including their registration fees. They didn't. The court also asked Rajuk to reclaim the wetlands in case the owners failed to complete the restoration within the six-month period—a task it abjectly failed to do. No structure or building has been reportedly demolished or removed from the project site since the verdict. This is not just unacceptable; it's a mockery of the state of law and order in our country. The authorities including all relevant departments of the government as well as the project owners must immediately comply with the order and settle the issue once and for all. Any breach of the court order or dereliction to that effect must not be tolerated at all.