Forced into migration
Rina Roy, her child and her in-laws in front of their home in Sundartala village in Mongla. They are planning to move. Photo: Anisur Rahman
With a power plant and other government projects in high gear, industrialists are apparently forcing small farmers and poor villagers of Mongla and Rampal to sell land and move out.
A recent visit to 25 villages in Mongla and Rampal in Bagerhat revealed that the affected villagers migrated to Khulna and other cities after most of them had found no alternative to selling their every piece of land.
This trend started after the government had decided to set up a massive coal-fired power plant at Sapmari in Rampal, a foodgrain silo and a naval dockyard at Jaymani village in Mongla.
Encouraged by the government move, private companies have so far purchased around 3,000 acres of land in that area, mostly through using unfair means, locals say.
“We gave permission [to industrialists] to buy land. But we did not monitor how much land they had bought or if they had bought it at all,” said Shukur Ali, deputy commissioner of Bagerhat.
Rampal and Mongla were called “Moger Mulluk” [an anarchic state] in the 17th century because of the Portuguese pirates' frequent attacks through the Pashur river.
Instead of pirates, big industrialists encouraged by the government are now ravaging the life of people. Their presence is seen everywhere on signboards claiming ownership of almost every patch of land.
Villagers say the buyers follow a certain process to get their land. First they are offered a price for a piece of land. They face immense pressure if they turn down the offer. If they still do not give in, they face harassment as all political people, including former and present Union Parishad chairmen, work for these buyers.
“They had offered us a good price, but we refused to sell our 50-decimal land. Then they increased the price and finally forced us to sell it. Now they have filled up the cropland that once belonged to us with sand,” said Bishnu Roy of Digraj village.
Bishnu's land was purchased by Sikder Group.
“I do not want to leave this land,” said elderly Anil Roy at Sundartala village. He has been facing severe pressure from the land brokers.
As Anil was talking to these correspondents, he was gloomily looking at his neighbours, who were busy getting ready to move away after giving up their resistance.
Anil's neighbours Subhash and Jyotish have sold their land to Sun Marine Shipyard and Saif Shipyard.
“The company people are mainly targeting the Hindus, who are selling out their land in fear that otherwise they will not be able to protect it,” Anil added.
The buyers are also cashing in on the financial conditions of the poor land owners.
Rina Roy's brother-in-law has sold his one-bigha home to Saif Shipyard for Tk 17 lakh for his kidney treatment. Her family also has been facing a serious crisis for four years as their farmland has become infertile due to invasive salinity. She apprehends that she too will be forced to move away, the last option left for her family.
“My younger brother-in-law went to Khulna and rented a house in a slum. I will join him when the company comes to evict me. I do not know how to earn my living there. I definitely do not want to be a day labourer. I come from a respectable family,” she said.
Land brokers frequently visit the village, she added. Many of her neighbours are also giving in to their persuasion, being unable to do otherwise.
Echoing Rina, her neighbour Poshudeb Roy's wife said the brokers had repeatedly been asking her husband to sell his land.
Anirban Halder, chairman of Digraj UP, said, “The government power plant and grain silo projects are giving signals to infrastructural development in the area. This is attracting big companies.”
“Around 2,200 families have lost their arable land and around 400 have already moved away because of the government's Rampal project. Scores of people also await eviction,” said Sushanto Kumar Das of Krishi Jomi Surakkha Sangram Committee [Arable Land Protection Movement].
Sushanto himself lost 65 bighas of arable land due to acquisition of around 1,834 acres by the government for the power plant and 82 acres occupied by an under-construction navy dock and grain silo.
Land broker Siraj recently posted online advertisements on bikroy.com and olx.com announcing the availability of 1,550 acres of “industrial land” in Mongla being eligible for “shipyard, ship-breaking yard, oil tanker, cement factory and LP gas unit”.
Contacted, Siraj told The Daily Star over phone, “I have been working closely with the villagers in finding suitable land for sale for the past three years.”
A government land zoning map initiated in 2010 gives no provision for any industrial scheme in the area, not even the Rampal power plant.
The draft amendment of the Bangladesh Environment Policy, 2013 restricts improper land use, especially in coastal areas, which are already vulnerable to climate change.