HC action on illegal housing projects
The High Court move on Monday directing the government and other authorities to take action against unauthorized advertisements, earth-filling and sale of plots in and around the capital is of critical importance, seeing that it comes against the backdrop of a similar directive in July last year. The earlier directive had asked the authorities to prevent any such earth filling, advertisements and plot sales by unauthorized and unapproved housing projects. This latest directive, coming in the wake of a petition filed by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), is unfortunately proof that there are elements ready and willing even to flout the decisions of the higher judiciary. It should have been for the relevant agencies to identify the unauthorized housing projects and go for decisive action against them. That they did not is regrettable.
We understand that when a petition was filed against unapproved housing projects and their advertising campaigns and other activities last year, as many as 56 unauthorised projects were mentioned by those filing the petition. But despite the HC orders issued at the time, private housing firms went on with their advertisement programmes and have indeed been luring people into reserving or buying plots of land whose legality is clearly in question. It is a matter that the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha should have handled swiftly. It did not do that. Moreover, despite its claim that it cancelled the registration of some firms, it did not take legal action against the guilty. And here arises the issue of what the authorities have not done to ensure a full implementation of the law, framed in 2000, to protect wetlands, parks and opens spaces. The law stipulated a fine of a mere Tk. 50,000 and imprisonment of five years for an individual violating it. To date, though, not a single individual or firm has been penalized although the fact remains that the law has been violated with impunity. For their part, housing projects complain that the law does not specifically list the kind of areas where they can work in. The result is that while some projects have been approved, alongside them some unapproved ones have come up as well. The loopholes and the ambiguity in the law in question are therefore a contributory factor to the mess.
We believe that the latest HC move must be acted upon immediately. While there is a freeze on the activities of the illegal housing projects, it is also important that those behind such deals be prosecuted swiftly. It must also be ensured that those who may have been swindled into purchasing such unauthorized plots of land have their money returned to them. At the same time, it is an absolute necessity for a monitoring of not only the implementation of the law enacted in 2000 but also the latest HC directive. Rajuk can do the monitoring, but since it is limited in terms of its manpower and necessary paraphernalia, it is important that the government bring in other agencies to assist in the process.
Finally, we feel it is imperative for the authorities to let the nation know how it means to recover those wetlands and open spaces that have already been filled in. In these eleven years, the culprits have done their work. Will they be allowed to get away with their dark deeds?