Just eight ruling party lawmakers and leaders roughly own land equivalent to a tenth of the capital, excluding the cantonments.
A random scan of the wealth statements the eight ruling party lawmakers and leaders recently submitted to the Election Commission reveals their lust for land and how aggressively they got hold of it as much as they could during the last five years.
Just five years ago, as per their 2008 wealth statements, the eight owned only 71.417 acres of land.
They now own 3,508 acres of land. The pieces of land are worth a couple of thousands crore taka. Many say that they actually have even more land than they have disclosed.
For the sake of understanding how much land is being talked about here: Dhaka city spreads over 31,630 acres of land. The eight state-owned export processing zones and the private Korean EPZ combined have only around 5,000 acres.
Former state minister for water resources Mahbubur Rahman, Forest and Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud, former state minister for housing and public works Abdul Mannan Khan, lawmaker from Dhaka [Mirpur] Aslamul Haque Aslam, AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif, former state minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak, lawmaker Nazrul Islam Babu and AL Organising Secretary Bir Bahadur are the ones who bought vast tracts of land in the last five years.
But some ruling party high-ups did not just go for land, considered a secure investment with high future returns. Instead, they went for large fish farms, which is a way to avoid tax since earnings from fisheries are tax free.
Seven lawmakers have shown in total Tk 34 crore annual earnings from fisheries while two have shown investments worth Tk 27 crore in fish farming.
AL lawmakers Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury, Elias Uddin Mollah, Mannan Khan and Hanif, and three AL nominated candidates, ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury (Chittagong-6), Didarul Alam (Chittagong-4), and Talukder Abdul Khaleque (Bagerhat-3) made a lot of money from fisheries, according to their 2013 wealth statements.
Former state minister for water resource Mahbubur Rahman Talukder had only 20 acres of agricultural land prior to his becoming a lawmaker in 2008. But in five years, he has come to own 2,865 acres of agricultural land, an astounding 143 times rise.
His land ownership beats even the biggest housing projects, which had resorted to illegal means to grab land or had filled up rivers and water bodies. The size of his land even dwarfs the country's largest 2,500-acre Korean EPZ.
In the affidavit, he claimed that his 2,865 acres of agricultural land was worth only Tk 70.14 lakh while independent sources with their most conservative estimates put the value around Tk 1,000 crore.
Back in 2008, Forest and Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud had a total of 14.4 decimals of land in different places, including an eight-decimal plot of land in Purbachal in Dhaka.
In his wealth statement, he mentioned that he inherited 25 percent of 3.2 decimal of land (he did not mention where but it was likely to be in Chittagong). For the rest of the land, he did not specify anything beyond saying that that he had paid Tk 8.5 lakh as advance to buy a house.
But in the last five years, the minister got as “gifts or donations” a staggering 310 acres (31,032 decimal) of agricultural land and a building on 8.096 decimal of land. His 2013 wealth statement however did not mention the locations of the very unusual gifts he received.
But that was not all.
Hasan also owns 9.6 decimal of land in Chittagong's most expensive area, Khulshi, approximately 4.8 decimal at Balia, which Hasan inherited, and another 0.0334 decimal in Khulshi worth Tk 14.60 lakh, and a duplex house worth Tk 47.83 lakh.
Hasan's wife Nuran Fatema now owns a 4.8-decimal plot of land in Gazipur, where land prices are very high, 288 decimal of land in Rangunia, Chittagong, and two office spaces of, 6,000 square feet on Sonargoan Road, Dhaka.
Aslamul Haq Aslam had just over six acres of land five years ago. Now he owns 145 acres, according to his wealth statement. Aslam did not mention that he owns a couple of power plants, which are on his own land.
Independent sources said he owned much more land than he had mentioned in his wealth statement.
Aslam told The Daily Star that he bought land outside the capital after selling off his prized pieces of land in Dhaka.
Back in 2008, Bir Bahadur had 45 acres of arable land, which have now become 99 acres. Apart from those, he also got a 0.245-acre (24.5 decimal) plot in the last five years.
Independent sources said Bahadur, also organising secretary of AL, owns vast tracts of land in Bandarban Sadar upazila, Rajbila, Kuhalong and Tonkaboti unions and in Lama and Naikkhangchhari upazilas.
Hanif, joint general secretary of the Awami League, owns 70 acres of land bought in the last five years with about Tk 4.95 crore. At least 67 acres are located within 200 meters of the country's lone mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, in Mongla and three acres in Gazipur.
Hanif's wealth statement showed he earns Tk 3.27 crore a year from fish farms. Contacted, he said he has several fish firms in Khulna and Patuakhali from where he earns most of his annual income.
AL lawmaker Nazrul Islam Babu had only 0.085 acres (8.5 decimal) of land back in 2008. Now he owns 7.08 acres (708 decimal) of land and a 3,238-square foot flat in the capital.
He claimed that the prices of the land and the flat were just over Tk 3.82 crore. He did not mention the locations of his pieces of land.
Sources claimed that Babu controls the sale and purchase of most pieces of land in his constituency (Araihazar-Rupganj) where land is rather costly.
Former state minister for housing and public works Mannan Khan and his wife had non-agricultural land worth Tk 2.45 lakh in 2008. Now they have land worth around Tk 1.96 crore.
Mannan, who had no flats, houses or buildings in 2008, now owns two flats and a building worth Tk 3.64 crore.
Mannan in his statement said he earned Tk 1.45 crore and his wife Tk 1.73 crore from fish farms and remittances. The couple had no fish farms before the 2008 election but this time they have shown that they own 10 fish farms inherited from their parents.
The AL lawmaker war recently ousted from the post of AL's office secretary. He was known as a pro-leftist politician in the party for his involvement in left-wing student politics.
Five years ago, former state minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak had only 0.10 acre (10 decimal) of agriculture land. But now he and his wife own 3.56 acres of land (1.94 acres non-agriculture and 1.62 acres arable land).
In addition, he has shown in his wealth statement that he owns a building in Dhaka worth Tk 1.30 crore. In 2008, Nanak's wife had only a 1,874 square foot flat but no building.
DEDICATED TO FISH FARMING
Among the AL lawmakers, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and his wife own two of the costliest fish farms, worth Tk 13.94 crore. The couple had no fish farms or flats in 2008, according to his statements.
Taposh also owns a 10-katha plot of land worth about Tk 2.47 crore and a flat worth around Tk 1.04 crore. His wife owns two plots in Dhanmondi worth Tk 1.66 crore.
Since 2008, Taposh has also had 50 percent ownership of two bighas and 10.50 kathas of agricultural land, and a commercial building in Motijheel, and 75 percent ownership of a 10 katha non-agriculture land.
Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury and his wife earn Tk 12.77 crore from fisheries and stock business yearly, according to his wealth statement.
He mentioned in the statement that they had investments worth Tk 13.19 crore in shrimp farms and stock business. They had no income from shrimps or stocks in 2008.
Ilias Mollah showed in his wealth statement that he earned Tk 5 crore from fisheries annually. According to his 2008 wealth statement, he used to earn Tk 30 lakh annually. Mollah is the chairman of Maijal Fisheries based in Mirpur Beribandh.
Three Awami League-nominated candidates, ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury (Chittagong-6), Didarul Alam (Chittagong-4) and Talukder Abdul Khaleque (Bagerhat-3) earn in total Tk 14 crore from fisheries annually.
In his wealth statement, Fazle Karim said he earned Tk 2.50 crore from fisheries in 2013. He had no income from the sector in 2008.
Didarul showed that he earned Tk 6.99 crore from fisheries. He has several ponds and fishing trawlers.
Talukder Abdul Khaleque, former Khulna City Corporation mayor, mentioned that he earned more than Tk 3.5 crore from fisheries.