Illegal Modhumoti Model Town: Still active in disguise
The Modhumoti Model Town developers continue operations while the government authorities turn a blind eye -- both failing to comply with the highest court's verdict on retaining the flood flow zone in Savar where the housing project was built illegally.
The project, first declared illegal by the High Court in 2005, remains active in the area apparently under a new name, "Nandonik Housing", as seen during a recent visit by The Daily Star.
Not only this, plot owners are still attempting to change the status of the project area despite the Supreme Court declaring it illegal and rejecting earlier review petitions.
The housing and public works ministry recently sent a letter to Rajuk, asking it to take necessary steps to incorporate the project as an urban area or withdraw it from the sub flood flow zone in the Detailed Area Plan (DAP).
The noncompliance with the order to retain the flood flow zone and the recent letter of the ministry, following an application by the plot owners, are brazen violations of the apex court judgment, said experts.
The full bench of the Supreme Court on April 25, 2019 quashed five review petitions while upholding its earlier verdict that had directed the authorities concerned to restore the wetland on which Modhumoti Model Town illegally developed its housing project.
The SC had ordered the project owner Metro Makers and Developers Limited to complete the restoration of the wetland in six months, dismantling all the construction of the 550-acre project. The land is identified as floodplain in the 1997 Dhaka City Master Plan.
The apex court also ordered the project owners to refund all plot buyers double the amount, including the registration fees.
Besides, the SC directed Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) to reclaim the wetland in case the project owners failed to complete the restoration within the six-month period.
"But more than a year after the SC verdict, the project is still there and no structure or building was demolished or removed from the place, even no earth has been removed from the project area so far," Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), told The Daily Star recently.
Bela filed a writ petition with the High Court in August 2004 challenging the legality of the project, saying it was developed violating the Environment Conservation Act, Town Improvement Act, and Rajuk rules.
NEW NAME, NEW GUISE
During a recent visit to the project area near Aminbazar, The Daily Star found nothing changed other than the previous large signboard of Modhumoti Model Town missing from the entrance of the housing project.
Rather, there was only a small notice board which mentions the project's name as "Nandonik Housing".
There was also a noticeably large signboard at the centre of the housing area with the following messages -- the project was "built without obstructing flood flow", there are "two lakh trees, a beautiful wide lake" and that it is the "dream of 1.5 lakh people of 3,000 families".
Inside the housing area, many plots were demarcated by walls. Some plots had signs with the owner's names on them, still mentioning Modhumoti Model Town as the title of the housing project.
Abdullah Sheikh, a staffer at the project office, said they have been using the name "Nandonik Housing" instead of Modhumoti Model Town for the last one year.
He said the housing project comprises 6,000 plots of 4,000 owners. And the plot owners are now overseeing the project and some are selling their plots to third parties.
According to the project office, 20 duplex houses, eight resorts, around 300 one-storey buildings, and 150 tin-shed houses have already been constructed there.
Contacted, AF Kallol, president of the plot owners' association, said he would give a comment regarding the court order and the recent application to the public works ministry later on.
But afterward, he did not pick up this correspondent's phone calls.
The Daily Star also repeatedly attempted to contact officials of Metro Makers and Developers Limited, but their phones were found switched off. On a visit two weeks ago, this correspondent found the company's headquarters in the city's Green Road area under lock and key.
NON-COMPLIANCE WITH SC VERDICT
Rajuk Chairman Sayeed Noor Alam told The Daily Star recently that they have formed a committee to take necessary steps after the Supreme Court verdict on the matter.
He said they have held a meeting around five to six months ago and asked all departments concerned to take necessary steps to follow the SC order. He, however, did not specify what steps they have taken so far in line with the SC verdict.
Planning section-3 of the housing and public works ministry, in a letter to Rajuk dated October 18, 2020, asked the latter to take necessary steps to incorporate the project as an urban area or withdraw it from the sub flood flow zone in the DAP.
The letter was issued following an application by plot owners of Modhumoti Model Town on September 17 last year.
"We have asked [Rajuk] in the letter to take action as per the rules. [But] if the Supreme Court has given this directive, it will not get approval," said an official of the planning section at the ministry, when asked about the plot owners' application.
The official, preferring to remain anonymous, said they were not informed about the court verdict. "Besides, the applicants also hid that information in the letter addressed to us."
Regarding the matter, Rajuk Chairman Sayeed Noor Alam said, "Their application will not be acceptable as there is a restriction from the court."
Regarding these developments, Bela's Rizwana Hasan said, "When a project is announced illegal twice by a highest court of the country and when the review petition of plots owners is rejected by the Supreme Court, then there is no scope of its inclusion as an urban area in the DAP."
She said following the SC verdict, there is no scope for the plot owners to submit any application like this and for the government authorities to entertain it.
"If the authorities concerned consider its application, then it means the executive division will interfere with the jurisdiction of the court and it would be a classic case of contempt of court," she said.
It is very important to restore the wetland to establish rule of law, she added.
LONG LEGAL BATTLE
In its petition filed with the High Court in 2004, Bela mentioned that if the project continued, the character of the area would be destroyed and the environment would be polluted.
The HC on July 27, 2005, declared the project unauthorised, illegal, and against public interest. It also said the interest of the buyers must be protected.
The Supreme Court upheld the HC verdict on August 7, 2012 and declared Modhumoti Model Town illegal. The apex court directed the authorities concerned to keep the area as a free flood flow zone.
On July 11, 2013, the Appellate Division released the full text of its 159-page verdict directing Metro Makers and Developers Limited to restore within six months the wetland in Bilamalia and Baliarpur mouzas of Savar where it had developed the project.
The apex court came up with the verdict to keep the area as a free flood flow zone and protect the capital from waterlogging.
In September 2013, Metro Makers and Developers Limited and plot purchasers moved five separate petitions with the Supreme Court seeking review of its judgment.
The full bench of the SC dismissed all five review petitions and upheld its earlier verdict on April 25, 2019.
Bela files petition with HC against Modhumoti Model Town project
HC declares the project "illegal", "unauthorised";
SC upholds HC verdict
The Appellate Division releases full verdict; project developers given 6 moths to restore wetland, dismantle all construction
Metro Makers and Developers Limited and plot purchasers move five petitions with the SC seeking review of judgment
SC bench dismisses all five petitions
Plot owners apply to housing ministry for incorporation as urban area or withdraw it from sub flow flood zone in DAP
Housing ministry sends letter to Rajuk in this regard