Munshiganj Rivers: Prize, not penalty for top grabber
Though the district administration and National River Conservation Commission have identified the company as the top river grabber in Munshiganj, the shipping ministry has been helping boost its business by awarding it shipbuilding contracts.
The company -- Three Angle Marine Ltd -- has grabbed parts of the Meghna and the Fuldi rivers in the district's Gajaria upazila.
In a 2019 report on river grabbers, Munshiganj district administration said Three Angle Marine occupied 4.31 acres of low-lying lands and canals and almost one acre along the Fuldi and the Meghna in Nayanagar Mouza.
Over two years have passed since the list was made for the river conservation commission, but none of the government agencies concerned has taken any action against the shipbuilder or done anything to reclaim the grabbed portions of the rivers.
Meanwhile, the shipbuilder continued grabbing more lands belonging to the waterbodies.
During a recent visit to the area, it was seen Three Angle Marine has set up a shipyard at the confluence of the Meghna and the Fuldi. The two rivers flank the triangular yard.
The company has filled up land into the Meghna and put up a fence inside the Fuldi, making the narrow river even narrower.
At one corner of the shipyard along the Fuldi, it has set up a farm, rearing a few hundred ducks.
Of the vessels moored at the yard, at least nine are of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authorities (BIWTA) and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), both agencies are under the shipping ministry.
Contacted, Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, state minister for shipping, said Three Angle Marine is a good shipbuilder.
"I wasn't aware of the allegation of river grabbing against them. Only lately, I came to know about it and took it seriously. We will definitely look into the matter," he told The Daily Star.
Three Angle Marine website mentions that it is currently building a tug boat, five crane boats, one crew houseboat, five barges, six aluminium boats and one training vessel for BIWTA and BIWTC. It is also repairing rescue vessels Hamza and Rustom, multiple 700-passenger capacity vessels and two ferries of the two agencies.
Interestingly, the BIWTA itself formed a committee to investigate the grabbing of rivers by Three Angle Marine in 2020.
The probe committee headed by Saiful Haque Khan, the then joint director (taskforce), mentioned Three Angle Marine filled up 6.72 acres of the Fuldi causing obstacles to the waterflow, which may eventually kill the river.
It also grabbed 120 decimals of the foreshore, 13.48 acres of low-lying land and 30.52 acres of private land.
"It should be treated as a criminal offence," the report observed.
As per the Bangladesh Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976, the BIWTA has powers to take measures against encroachers to protect the waterways.
On February 2 this year, the Cabinet Division directed the BIWTA chairman to recommend what actions can be taken against Three Angle Marine. It asked the BIWTA to draw a line on the foreshore of the Meghna and the Fuldi. But nothing has been done.
Meanwhile, the shipping ministry awarded more shipbuilding and repair contracts to Three Angle Marine.
On August 12, the Cabinet Division directed the BIWTA chairman to act on the matter but to no avail.
This correspondent called the chairman several times for comments, but he did not respond.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), said, "They filled up the Meghna right under BIWTA's nose. How could BIWTA officials allow this when they were supposed to protect the inland water transport route?"
'GRABBING OF LAND AND CANALS'
The company has also filled up two canals named Borochak and Komoria and arable lands.
The shipbuilding yard currently has 110 acres of land in its possession. It purchased 50 acres of that from locals and filled up with sand more than 60 acres of land belonging to farmers, locals said.
The land belonged to around 100 farmers of Nayanagar, Balurchar, Gosairchar and Daulatpur villages in Gajaria upazila, they added.
In 2020, four villagers filed a writ petition (petition number 8,668) with the High Court regarding river grabbing and forcibly filling up of their land.
On April 5 this year, the HC issued a rule asking the local authorities to respond within four weeks, said Abdus Sattar, a teacher from Daulatpur village.
"But no one has responded yet."
Villagers lodged multiple written complaints with the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police and also formed human chains several times.
Nur Mohammed, an elderly farmer, alleged Three Angle Marine has grabbed 46 decimals of land he got from the government as a landless farmer.
"They have filled up my land with sand. And there is nobody to see to it," he said.
Jamshed Pradhan, president of Daulatpur ward Awami League, said, "A few years ago, Three Angle Marine started filling up my land with sand."
They have also occupied rivers and canals forcibly.
"We have lodged several written complaints with the local authorities, but they have done nothing."
Gajaria Upazila Agriculture Officer Toufik Ahmed Nur said a portion of the land where the company set up the shipbuilding yard used to be arable land. Farmers used to grow Boro rice, potatoes and maize.
Not only did the villagers lose their land, they saw their livelihoods affected in many other ways due to the shipbuilding yard.
Amir Hossain, Arafat Sarker, Aman Ullah, Shahid Ullah, Emon Ali and many others who are fishermen said since the yard was set up, the quantity of fish they catch has been decreasing.
The color of the water has also changed.
Anisur Rahman, chief scientific officer at Chandpur Fisheries Research Institute, said the Meghna has been badly affected due to the establishment of the dockyards that have been an impediment to the free movement of fish.
Amirul Islam, chairman of Gajaria Upazila Parishad, said he had spoken against the encroachment in several meetings of the Upazila Development Committee and other bodies. He added that he received death threats everytime he raised the issue.
Ziaul Islam Chowdhury, upazila nirbahi officer, also the convener of Upazila River Protection Committee, said a notice had been issued to Three Angle Marine over its illegal occupation of land and rivers.
Initially, some evidence of the occupation of rivers, canals and lands has been found. Meanwhile, he said, the company has applied for a lease of government land.
"They have purchased some land... Since there is an ongoing lawsuit, a mobile court cannot take any action."
Sheikh Masud Kamal, joint director of BIWTA's office in Narayanganj River Port, said actions would be taken against illegal river occupants if recommended by the Munshiganj district administration.
Kazi Nahid Rasul, deputy commissioner and convener of District River Protection Committee, said the UNO has been asked to investigate and report on the allegations against Three Angle Marine.
He said the cabinet has also given instructions to take action in this regard.
They are now waiting for the investigation report, he said.
Kamrun Nahar Ahmed, a permanent member (additional secretary) of the National River Protection Commission, said a letter was sent, asking the local administration to take action against Three Angle Marine.
Lokman Hossain, one of the directors of Three Angle Marine, said the allegation of occupation of Fuldi and Meghna rivers is false. Someone has listed Three Angle Marine Limited among the river grabbers on purpose. A letter was sent to the National River Conservation Commission in August, requesting the officials to inspect the site.
He also denied the allegations of grabbing local farmers' land. "There are several cases pending regarding the land."
Meanwhile, in an advertisement published in a local daily on September 5, managing director of Three Angle Marine said as the company is engaged in work for the water transport sector of the government, it needs to expand its yard. So, the directors have decided to purchase land adjoining the yard at current market price. If somebody stakes claim over the land in the company's possession, that too would be purchased at current rate if they can produce necessary papers, the advertisement said.