On a January afternoon, 80-year-old Amrito Bala was at home alone. Some people arrived at her doorstep and identified themselves as census bureau officials.
They spoke to her for a while, inquired about her homestead and took her fingerprints on a paper.
They also handed her a packet, told her to “buy some sweets” and left in a hurry.
When her son, Ratan Barua, got home and opened the package he found Tk 8,500 inside it.
Not knowing what to do with the money or who to contact regarding it, they left it aside.
The incident took place at Barua Para of Raozan upazila in Chittagong.
What transpired next was beyond her comprehension.
Just after a few months, in June, she saw some labourers digging large holes for piling works, a few yards away from her home.
They also had “proper documents” with her fingerprints on them, giving them permission to install electricity tower on her homestead.
As Amrito Bala stood baffled, they continued digging.
Soon, she found out that those men who visited her back in January were actually from Rural Electrification Board (REB).
Her sons tried everything to stop the work. They said they contacted all the high-ups of the power development board (PDB), but to no avail.
As a last resort, they also went to the court in June but lost the battle due to the fact that their mother's fingerprints were on the documents.
For the family, disaster did not end there. Tragedy struck again.
Amrito Bala suffered a massive cardiac arrest in August.
“After passing days regretting what happened, my mother passed away on August 18,” said Ratan Barua.
“This 20-decimal land was all we had. This was our ancestral homestead.”
“Now they [REB] want to grab it. Even after the death of my mother, they did not stop,” the 45-year-old said.
“All we have left is the home now,” he added.
“I also called REB office many times. They told me to remain satisfied with the money,” he alleged.
He said this has happened to them before.
Misery has been stalking the family since 1985 when the first electricity tower was installed on their land, though there were empty lands available, he claimed.
“It's the same now. They could have set up the tower on an open space. But they chose ours to evict us from our ancestral land,” alleged Ratan, a technician.
On June 14, the family filed a writ petition with the High Court.
On June 28, the HC issued a stay order to stop the work for six months.
Jyotirmoy Barua, lawyer for the writ petitioner, said REB obtained permission from Amrito Bala through fraudulence.
As per existing law, an acquisition has to be done through the office of Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Chittagong and REB would pay the compensation money to the DC.
Then the DC, following legal procedures, would pay compensation to the family.
He said REB has no authority to acquire any land on their own or pay compensation directly to anyone.
The lawyer also said as per “Dayabhaga” (Hindu inheritance law), a woman cannot be the owner of her husband's property. So, Amrito Bala had no legal authority to give consent anyway, he argued.
“The Appellate Division without considering these facts accepted REB's argument that they have paid TK 20,000 to Amrito Bala and vacated its earlier stay order,” he said.
When asked, Mamunur Rashid, additional deputy commissioner (land acquisition) of Chittagong, said to his knowledge, they did not receive any proposal of acquiring land at Barua Para for any development work.
Meanwhile, work continues on the land.
Biplob Banta, executive engineer of Palli Bidyut Samity, Chittagong (north), said it was going on as per the design by the consultant. “We have no authority to change that.”
He also claimed that they have paid Tk 20,000 compensation to the family.
When asked whether they had any authority to acquire land on their own or pay compensation directly to anyone, he said, “The land was acquired as per law and the compensation package was 'handled' by the project implementation office.”
He also denied the allegation of obtaining the woman's fingerprints falsely and reiterated, “Everything was done in line with the existing law.”
Mostafa Kamal, project director of the electrification work, and Maj Gen (retd) Moin Uddin, chairman of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board, did not answer multiple phone calls seeking comments.
This correspondent also sent them text messages, but they did not reply.