Grabbers feast on Kuakata beach
With land prices rocketing in Kuakata, a gang of land grabbers has embarked on grabbing the beach defying court orders.
These individuals have already occupied acres of the beach area, officially earmarked as khas land, and hung large signboards claiming ownership of demarcated 'plots'.
Grabbing of this natural beach is happening so fast that by the time the administration in Patuakhali learns about it, the organised gangs 'procure enough documents' to fend off any action, local people said.
In the absence of a master plan for development, Kuakata, known for its natural beauty, is fast losing its landscape to mindless allocation of 'plots' and haphazard construction.
In 1998, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared Kuakata an exclusive tourist zone and asked the local government to take all measures to develop it in a planned way. Since then nothing has been done mainly due to lack of allocation from the government, according to eminent citizens and government officials in Patuakhali.
The indifference of the authorities is already taking its toll on the beauty of the area that, despite dilapidated roads, is visited by about half a million tourists annually.
The grabbing of the beach started with the phenomenal rise in land prices in the area. Within the last four years, the value of a katha of land rose from Tk 3,000 to a staggering Tk 200,000, according to local journalists.
Sources in the local administration said the new settlers on the beach somehow bypassed the Diara Settlement Office in Barisal where 96 cases, involving acres of beach area, are now pending.
“We don't know how these people could have obtained valid papers when these cases are pending,” said an official of the district administration in Patuakhali wishing anonymity.
Most occupiers of the Kuakata beach have already set up hotels, restaurants and shops.
This correspondent found a large signboard near the beach claiming a project to construct 'Hotel Kings'. A solid boundary and a building bore the mark of its presence. ABM Sahidul Islam Swapan claimed ownership of the land and the hotel project and said that he had bought the plot 'several years ago'.
Another individual, Shah Alam Sheikh, occupied 1.60 acres of land nearby and demarcated it with pillar and barbed wire. Sheikh said that he inherited the land from his father. Both of these so-called owners of the Kuakata beach area however admitted that cases against their plots are still pending with the settlement office in Barisal.
In 1996, the government rehabilitated 50 landless fishermen families with land and homes near the beach. But super cyclone Sidr in November 2007 totally destroyed it. Interestingly the landless families' village is now a project area for an unknown group of people from outside Kuakata. Local people said the landless families were allegedly forced to sell their small allocations of land and move out of the area.
Tourists visiting Kuakata openly express their dismay at the unplanned growth of the area. Ashraf Uddin Khan, a tourist from Dhaka, said that he felt sad about the destruction of the beach.
“Building huts and installing demarcation pillars in such a way on the beach look ugly and unacceptable. Authorities must act as soon as possible to stop this nuisance and make Kuakata enjoyable," Khan said.
Abdul Jabbar Akon, local land officer, said that the area near the beach belongs to the state. “Our records clearly show that it is khas land and we have already filed 96 objection petitions with Diara settlement office in Barisal that remain pending for years,” Akon said.
When contacted, Md Liakat Ali, UNO of Kalapara upazila, also confirmed that most land on the beach is classified as khas land.
“Some locals occupied most parts of khas land by showing settlement case in 1955. We have already filed objections with the divisional settlement office in Barisal,” Liakat Ali said.
Md Reaz Ahmed, DC of Patuakhali, said that they would soon conduct drives to remove illegal structures from the khas land in Kuakata beach.
Frustrated by the indifference of the government towards development of Kuakata, members of 'Kuakata Hotel Resorts Owners Association' formed a human chain in front of Kuakata press club and the sea beach on March 10, urging all to save Kuakata from land grabbers.
Wahiduzzaman Khan Sohel, secretary of the association, said that Kuakata is fast losing its natural beauty due to unplanned growth.
“The government must take immediate measures to make Kuakata more enjoyable rather than encouraging unplanned development,” Sohel said.