State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid on Sunday said the government will renovate Haziganj Fort, an age-old heritage site in Narayanganj, which is now in ruins, and also recover its illegally occupied land.
"The archaeology department and the Narayanganj City Corporation will recover the illegally occupied land of the fort, and will jointly renovate the fort and later open it to visitors."
The state minister made the comment on a visit to the fort. Narayanganj city mayor Selina Hayat Ivy, Deputy Commissioner of the district Jashim Uddin, additional superintendent of police Subash Chandra Saha and officials of the archaeology department accompanied him on his visit.
Haziganj Fort and the 20 acres of land on which it stands is under the auspices of the archaeology department. No other organisation has any authority over it.
But businessmen who have recently been evicted been from the land with their businesses, claim that 19 businesspeople constructed factories there on plots that were bought from the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation.
And they claim that they have been paying taxes to the city corporation regularly, they said.
They claim they have been affected financially because the archaeology department and the city corporation evicted them without notice.
Sources at the archaeology department say that Haziganj Fort, also known as Khizirpur Fort, was built during the reign of Subedar Mir Jumla in 1580 on the western bank of the Shitalakhya River. In 1960, the then Pakistan government issued a gazette notification allocating 19.64 acres of land for the fort. In 2010, a gazette notification was published for a detailed area plan to the same effect.
But influential local people gradually and illegally occupied the land of the fort and constructed buildings there.
Many walls of the fort have collapsed because of a lack of maintenance. The historic site is now in a poor state.
Local people want Haziganj Fort, one of the country's oldest heritage sites be opened to tourists after renovation.
Meanwhile, the businessmen said, "We bought plots through a tender which was floated by the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation."
They claimed that they paid the BJMC for the plots in several installments.
But the BJMC is taking time for the registration of some portions of the land because of a dispute with the railway department over ownership.
On November 2, the affected factory owners held a press conference in the Narayanganj Press Club on this issue.
On behalf of the factory owners, Imdadul Haque, proprietor of Khazababa Twisting Mill, said they suffered huge financial losses because the archeology department and the city corporation evicted them suddenly without giving them any opportunity to remove their factory goods.
The owners of 19 industries operated their businesses on the land from 1985 to 1992 after leasing it from the BJMC, he said.
Later in 2001, the BJMC called a tender to sell the land, but the process got stuck following a High Court directive. In 2013, an amended sales letter was issued at a meeting presided over by the then jute and textiles minister. Later, the businessmen paid for the land in instalments, Imdadul added.
"We applied to the jute and textile ministry seeking the transfer of the land after registration. Then the BJMC told us that it would take time for the ownership change and the mutation,"
"We were told that an inter-ministry meeting would require to solve the dispute between the jute and the railway ministries. And we were waiting for that," Imdadul claimed, adding, "The archeology department and the city corporation evicted us without any prior notice on October 24 this year."
In response to a query by journalists, State Minister KM Khalid, said "The owner of the land is the archeology department. The BJMC cannot claim ownership."
Narayanganj city mayor Dr Selina Hayat Ivy said they will develop the land as a place for recreation.
In 2016, the local government and engineering department introduced an action area plan for the Narayanganj City Corporation. The renovation and preservation of Haziganj Fort under the action area plan has been done as per the detailed area plan, she added.
People illegally occupied different establishments near the fort, Ivy said, and added that some businessmen also encroached the land of the fort.
"I request them to remove their business establishments as soon as possible."
"As those businessmen bought the plots from the BJMC, we will soon sit with jute and textile minister Golam Dostogir Gazi about the matter when he returns from abroad," she said.
"Will raise the issue of allocating them other land of the jute ministry," she added.
The archeology department and the district administration and the city corporation recovered the fort's land on October 24 this year, following a High Court order.