Showing blatant disregard for a Supreme Court verdict for restoring the wetland in Savar where Modhumoti Model Town had been developed, the housing project company continues to sell plots and erect new buildings on the site under a different name.
The court had ordered the project owner, Metro Makers and Developers Limited, to refund all plot buyers double the amount, including registration fee.
But let alone refunding its buyers, the developer has kept expanding after renaming the project to "Nandonik Housing".
The Rajdhani Unnayan Kortipokkho (Rajuk) was directed by the apex court to reclaim the wetland in case the project owner failed to complete the restoration within six months. But Rajuk has failed to make any significant headway in restoring the water body either.
In response to a writ petition filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), the High Court in 2005 declared the project illegal as it was developed grabbing wetlands identified as floodplain in the Dhaka City Master Plan.
The developer challenged the verdict by filing an appeal with the Appellate Division, but lost in 2012. Its review petitions against the verdict on appeal were also rejected by the apex court next year.
So, no alternative was left for the developer but to comply with the apex court verdict.
The company had developed the housing project filling in 550 acres of wetlands at Bilamalia and Baliarpur identified as floodplain in the 1997 Dhaka City Master Plan. It had started working on the project without permission from Rajuk and without a clearance certificate from the Department of Environment.
On a visit to the project area recently, The Business Standard found a business sign – affixed to an office inside the Modhumoti Model Town – that says "Nandonik Housing". Similar signs were also displayed on the boundary walls of many plots. Some of the plots were still bearing the previous name of Modhumoti Model Town.
Amdad Amin, president of Nandonik Housing, said the name was changed a year ago.
"We asked Metro Makers how changing the name only on signs would work if it was not possible to change it in the land documents. But, they did not have any satisfactory answer," he added.
Meanwhile, new boundary walls were being constructed on many plots. Construction of some new residential buildings was also going on.
There were some families and some construction workers living in the housing area.
Md Azad, a construction worker, said, "I have been staying here for the last two years. I build boundary walls on the vacant plots."
He said, a dairy farm, a nursery, a rubber factory and some other businesses are running inside the housing project.
Several picnic and film shooting spots such as "Chayabithi'', "Kallol Kutir" and "Rajmohol" are also present in the housing project.
Grocery shops and mini restaurants have also grown up in the illegally developed housing.
There is also a madrasa with 20 students and a mosque in the area.
No refunds for plot purchasers yet
Around 4,000 buyers had purchased plots in the model town, according to the Modhumoti Model Town Plot Owners Association.
The court asked Metro Makers to pay back double the amount including registration costs, to them. But no plot owner has got any refund yet.
One of the plot owners, Shah Miraz Babor, purchased a plot of 3.5 kathas for Tk14 lakh in the housing project in 2008. He said, "No boundary wall has been built around my plot yet. My plot's current price is Tk25 lakh. I have not got my money back."
Advocate Abdus Sattar, president of Modhumoti Model Town Plot Owners Association, said, "Around 1,000 buyers have not got their plots from Metro Makers. The company owners have left the country."
The plots are of various sizes, starting from 2.5 kathas to 20 kathas, in the project. They purchased per katha at Tk3-7 lakh, he said. Each katha, a traditional land measure, is equal to about 720 square feet.
"We are holding our possessions on the plots in the project as we have not got our money back. We will not move from here, unless we do" he added.
Zakaria Khan, chief executive officer at Metro Makers and Developer Limited, could not be contacted despite several attempts on the phone.
Metro Makers' office on Green Road was found locked. Md Belal, caretaker of the building, said the office has remained closed since the pandemic hit in March.
Alamgir Shamsul Alamin, president of the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB), told The Business Standard, "Metro Makers is our member, but now, it is not much active. I think they should respect the court order and continue activities."
"We can take actions against any member only if they violate REHAB's rules; otherwise we can not do anything. But, when a specific court directive comes to us, we act accordingly," he said.
Rajuk's reclamation effort weak
Even though the Supreme Court had directed The Rajdhani Unnayan Kortipokkho (Rajuk) to reclaim the wetland where Modhumoti Model Town built its project, it has not made any headway in that task though one year has passed since it formed a technical committee.
The committee had been tasked with identifying a place for dumping sand which will be removed from the housing project, and also to estimate the cost of the work.
The move was taken in the light of the developer not removing sand from the wetlands as ordered by the Supreme Court.
Rajuk was directed by the apex court to reclaim the wetland in case the project owner failed to complete the restoration work within the stipulated six-month time. In that case, Metro Makers and Developer Limited would bear the expenses of the restoration work.
Md Ashraful Islam, town planner at Rajuk, said, "It is a very time-consuming process. First, we have to find a suitable place to deposit a huge quantity of sand to be removed from the wetlands.
"We are also assessing the cost for the work. Then we will ask the developer to deposit the money in our account. We hope to do the job as early as possible."
Modhumoti Model Town, the first project of Metro Makers and Developers Ltd, was established in 1990. The company started buying land in 1991 and went on sale in 2001.
What next in the legal battle
The environment lawyers association BELA, which had moved against the housing project in court 15 years ago and won, is now preparing to go to court again. This time it seeks the enforcement of the Supreme Court verdict.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bela, told The Business Standard that the project owner Metro Makers was bound to remove all the earth from the project area and restore the wetland within six months but it violated the order.
"We served a contempt of court notice to Metro Makers, the land ministry and the Rajuk in July last year. We are now preparing to file a contempt petition with the court."
She also said the authorities could change the illegal housing project's name on signboards, but they could not do it in the documents.
"The project area is still being expanded, plots are being sold through a different medium and new buildings are being constructed. All of these have been mentioned in the contempt notice," she added.