Swadesh Properties and Eastern Housing are facing allegations of grabbing lands and carrying out development work without the permission of Dhaka South City Corporation in Fakirkhali and its surrounding areas.
But they both denied the allegations.
Dhaka south Chief City Planner Md Sirajul Islam told The Business Standard conducting development work without the permission of city corporations is illegal.
He said companies must take separate permissions from both city corporations and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk) to carry out development work according to the existing laws.
But no company has obtained the permission from city corporations to implement housing projects in Fakirkhali and its surrounding areas.
Swadesh Properties and Eastern Housing have allegedly carried out illegal development work in ward 75 under Dhaka south and ward 42 under Dhaka north in Fakirkhali and its surrounding areas.
Dhaka south ward 75 was formerly part of Nasirabad union and was included in Dhaka south in 2016. At present, it is under Khilgaon thana.
Idarkandi, Fakir Khali, Balur Par, Babur Jaiga, Daserkandi, Zorbhita, Trimohoni Purba Para, Lion Hati, Trimohoni, Imambagh, Uttargaon, Trimohoni Tekpara, Gouranagar Islambagh, Nasirabad, Shekher Jaiga and Nagdarpar comprise the ward.
Akbar Hossain, councillor of the ward, said, "Fakirkhali comprises four mouzas. Most of the areas in Gazaria mouza are under Aftab Nagar owned by Eastern Housing and they are part of ward 75. On the other hand, Nigur, Kathaldia and Badda mouzas are under ward 42 of Dhaka north."
He said many companies have housing projects in the area but the big ones include Swadesh Properties and Eastern Housing.
During a visit to Fakirkhali on 28 February, sand was seen being extracted by a dredger and used to fill croplands through iron pipes.
Locals alleged they had been forced to sell their lands to housing companies after the lands had been grabbed through sand filling. They also raised the allegation to Dhaka south Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh when the latter visited the area last month.
"Swadesh Properties filled my lands with sand without my permission a few years ago. I was then forced to sell the property. The company paid me only Tk5 lakh for per katha," claimed a Fakirkhali resident wishing anonymity.
He said influential politicians of both the Awami League and the BNP are involved in such housing projects and that is why locals cannot protest against these illegal activities.
Another local alleged Eastern Housing had also grabbed lands but paid more than Swadesh Properties. "They also gave some plots to landowners after purchasing lands."
In areas surrounding Fakirkhali, there are several housing projects, including Sunvalley Abason of Swadesh Properties, Aftab Nagar of Eastern Housing, and United City of Neptune Land Development.
Rajuk says Sunvalley Abason is conditionally permitted to operate development work in 96.06 acres of area. The project is located beside 100ft and Madani Avenue and comprises approximately 5,000 plots.
The entire project area is surrounded by Aftab Nagar (south), Bashundhara Residential Area (north), 200ft Eastern Avenue (east), Badda, Gulshan, Banani, and Pragati Sarani (west).
Besides, Aftab Nagar has full permission and United City has conditional permission from Rajuk to carry out development work.
Kawsar, a land broker in the area, told The Business Standard, "Housing companies usually do not cheat landowners but they delay payments. We get Tk10,000 for per katha after selling a piece of land."
He admitted that landowners had been forced to sell lands for a pittance.
The ward 75 councillor said, "Even if someone has no plan to sell his land, they are forced by housing companies to do so. In such a situation, landowners do not get the market price when they sell."
"The companies built housing projects on 5,000-7,000 bighas of land. Of these, a maximum of 1,000 bighas was sold spontaneously by landowners," he added.
Md Sujon, a former member of Nasirabad union parishad, said, "The companies do not fill lands continuously. They do so at the interval of a few months. Some individuals are also doing this illegal activity now."
Though companies need permission for development work, many do not follow the rule. Dhaka south has already issued letters to some companies, asking them to take permission for both their current and future development work.
Dhaka south Chief Estate Officer Rasel Sabrin said they had also published a newspaper advertisement, asking the companies to take permission.
He said the existing housing projects that do not have the permission of city corporations would have to obtain permission.
Anwar Hossain, surveyor of Dhaka south, told The Business Standard, "We wrote to Green Model Town and Amulia Model Town three months ago, asking them to take our permission."
Rajuk says 26 housing projects have full permission and 10 have conditional permission in Dhaka city corporation areas.
"Housing projects are springing up like mushrooms. Three years ago, a Rajuk survey identified at least 77 unapproved projects," said Md Ashraful Islam, city planner and project director of the Detailed Area Plan at Rajuk.
"We have removed billboards and signboards of illegal housing projects through mobile court operations and asked the companies to stop the projects," he added.
The Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh thinks there should be a single regulatory authority to control housing companies.
Its President Alamgir Shamsul Alamin said, "The government policy is to ease doing business. If it becomes mandatory for us to take permissions from both Rajuk and city corporations, there will be more hassles. We have already informed the ministries concerned of this."
"If a land grabbing allegation is proved against a company, we take action. Besides, we regularly play the role of a mediator to resolve different allegations," he added.
According to the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, it is mandatory to get the prior approval of city corporations for any development work in city corporation areas. Section 92 of the act says constructing or reconstructing buildings or developing an area without the necessary approval is considered an offence.
What the companies are saying
Selim Ahmed, company secretary of Eastern Housing, said, "We do not operate any project without buying lands from landowners and violating Rajuk policy. But I am not aware of the law that says we need to take permission from city corporations."
Faizul Haque, general manager (sales) of Swadesh Properties, told The Business Standard, "We do not do any illegal development work in Fakirkhali. The area where Dhaka south conducted a mobile court drive is under United City, which is owned by another housing company."
He also denied the allegation of forcing landowners to sell lands.
Mayor's order to stop unpermitted housing projects
Dhaka south Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh visited Fakirkhali and its surrounding areas on 24 February.
He said during the visit that some housing companies were occupying lands without the permission of Dhaka south and were implementing unplanned housing projects, causing people to suffer.
Locals protested but to no avail, he said.
The mayor instructed real estate companies to stop all housing projects being implemented without the permission of city corporations.
"We have instructed officials, including regional executive officials, to stop dredging. Housing projects cannot be implemented without permission. If necessary, we will seize vehicles and equipment from the housing companies."
During a Dhaka south mobile court drive in the area on 28 February, 280 iron pipes used for illegal sand filling were seized. The pipes, each 10 feet long, were later sold at a spot auction for Tk4.42 lakh.
Dhaka south Executive Magistrate AH Irfan Uddin Ahmed said, "Sand is transported from one place to another illegally to fill lands. Crop productions in nearby lands are affected due to this."
"Three months ago, we issued letters to the companies, notifying them of rule violations. We said they would have to register the projects," he added.