Green light from PM
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked army officials to go ahead with their self-financed housing project in Rupganj after ensuring that the locals do not feel aggrieved, said military sources.
She had a talk about the issue with the army chief immediately after Saturday’s clashes between villagers and law enforcers over “forced purchase of land” for the housing scheme in Rupganj of Narayanganj.
The matter came up for discussion again when she met the military high-ups at the Armed Forces Division on Tuesday.
The prime minister, who holds the defence portfolio, directed the senior officials to continue the project but on a lesser scale.
She also asked them to be careful not to violate any laws while implementing the project.
The proposed development in Rupganj is part of a long-term mega project titled “Self-Financed Housing Scheme for the Army”.
It is the first in a series of residential neighbourhoods the army plans to develop across the country for its officers and other staff.
Similar schemes might be implemented in Barisal, Keraniganj and Savar, and they might take around 20 years to be completed, sources in the army said.
Around 1,400 bighas of land was already purchased for the project in Rupganj before Saturday’s violence.
In the wake of the clashes, army officials have temporarily stopped purchasing land there. Their original target was to buy around 12,000 bighas.
The Rupganj incident sent the army authorities trying to figure out what went wrong. After much deliberation, they identified mismanagement as one of the reasons for the mess-up. They also concluded they should have tried the civilian way to buy civilian lands.
The high-ups also reviewed the ambitious housing project, and are now weighing up new strategies to implement it.
“The project might be split into several parts. Besides Rupganj, some other sites on the outskirts of the capital might be included in it. A decision in this regard is likely to come soon,” said an officer.
“In the light of what happened in Rupganj, they have almost decided to slash the size of the project,” said the officer who prefers anonymity, as he is not authorised to talk to the media about the issue.
The first phase of the project would be implemented on the land already purchased or in the process of being purchased. The land that locals would willingly sell to the army would also be included, said a source involved in AHS.
In the original plans, 26,000 plots were to be developed in Rupganj. The number would now come down to 4,000.
Besides the army men, the navy and air force officers, retirees and civilians affected by the project will be eligible to get AHS plots.
However, those who have plots in DOHS and Rajuk will not be entitled to any.
“Army Housing Scheme (AHS) will continue to fulfil its mission in respect of all ranks in different stations at suitable locations. The first project will be for officers at Dhaka. Thereafter, AHS will start its different projects for all ranks in other locations,” say the project documents.
The sites to be selected for AHS would be close to cantonments/any important commercial/administrative areas.
The issue of housing problems facing the servicemen first came up for discussion at the army Darbar with the prime minister after the BDR mutiny last year.
Army officials said this mega project was taken up after the authorities found there was not much land left to set up any new DOHS (Defence Officers’ Housing Society).
An officer said the Indian army has been implementing such projects for their officers since 1978 through the Army Welfare Housing Organisation.
The project documents say while DOHS is a welfare project sponsored by the government, AHS is self-financed.
For DOHS, the government gives land for free. The officers only have to pay for taxes and the cost of land development, which one officer said, are very little.
But expenses for almost everything in AHS are financed by the officers themselves.
Regarding approval for the project, the AHS website [www.ahs.org.bd] reads, “A proposal for AHS was sent to the Armed Forces Division. It was accepted by the government in principle through the prime minister’s office, AFD, Administration and Management Directorate, Dhaka Cantonment in November last year.”
Army officials began purchasing land in Rupganj in September, and bought around 1,400 bighas before Saturday.
AHS will convert the land into plots and hand those over to registered buyers on no-profit no-loss basis.
Most of the plots will measure five kathas. Only a few to be set aside for commercial purposes will be bigger, say the project documents.
The price would be around Tk 15 lakh. Those willing to buy plots have already deposited Tk 8 lakh in two instalments. They have been asked to deposit the rest in four instalments by October 10, 2012.
Out of around 6,000 officers down to the second lieutenant rank, over 4,000 have already deposited Tk 8 lakh each.
The officers who have not had an opportunity to serve at lucrative UN missions are getting loans from the Trust Bank to buy plots.
For JCOs and ORs, there might be independent housing plots subject to the availability of land.
The housing scheme will have facilities of international standards. It will have amenities like walkways, parks, community centres, mosques, shopping centres, etc.
“Bangladesh Army is striving to excel in its quest for ensuring affordable new homes for the officers--both serving and retired--for a better and equitable future. The government’s generous support towards building a well-trained army crosses a milestone through the initiation of this mega project,” Quarter Master General Lt Gen Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan, also chairman of AHS, says in a message posted on the project’s website.
The project will be gradually expanded so the officers in future do not have to face housing crisis. The work of drawing up an integrated master plan is already underway.
Besides, there are plans to have AHS registered as a limited company under the Companies Act-1924.