Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) took up the Purbachal New City project back in 1995, involving areas of Rupganj in Narayanganj and parts of Kaliganj in Gazipur.
Twenty-five years later, only 67% of the project's land development has been completed.
After five design changes and six deadline extensions, Rajuk now promises to complete the project – initially planned to be complete in 2010 – in June next year.
But, this target also looks elusive as 11,000 of the project's 26,000 plots are yet to be prepared.
The 15,000 plots that Rajuk has handed over to buyers thus far are not complete either.
There are no roads. It is also uncertain when electricity, gas and water connections will be available. What is more, many of the plots handed over are still full of ruts.
There were plans to turn a sector of Purbachal into a commercial city by constructing several high-rise structures, including the 465-metre and 96-storey Iconic Legacy Tower, the 71-storey Independence Tower and the 52-storey Bhasha Tower, but their construction has not started yet.
A part of Purbachal is in Bhawal forest area. The High Court has banned the inclusion of this part in the project while local residents have not given up possessions of the lands either.
More than 50 cases filed over irregularities in various plots are pending in the High Court.
Despite this disorganisation, Rajuk keeps promising that it will complete the project within the next seven months.
"We have until June 2021 to complete it," Ujjwal Mallick, Rajuk supervising engineer and director of Purbachal project, told The Business Standard.
"Plots that have not been handed over yet are being prepared. Hopefully, we can finish work within the stipulated time."
But urban development experts have described Rajuk's promise to implement the project within the next seven months as ridiculous.
Professor Nazrul Islam, a city planner, expressed surprise, saying, "Seven months! The project will not be completed even by 2030."
The project will not be completed even by 2030.
"Plots have not been prepared yet. Moreover, they have to build roads, bridges and culverts, and install electricity, gas and sewerage lines."
Urban planner and architect Mubasshar Hussain said the project deadline was being extended repeatedly to benefit the people in the government.
"New plots have been created by changing the original design of the project, which is unethical."
Architect Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), described it as a project of misappropriation.
"Influential people in the government have arbitrarily been allotted plots. There are corruption and irregularities in the project."
Little progress in 25 years
Rajuk acquired 6,150 acres of property for the project. Of them, 4,500 acres were in Rupganj, 1,500 acres in Kaliganj and the remaining 150 acres in Khilkhet.
The project is divided into 33 sectors, and 26,000 plots were supposed to be built. The 15-year project was expected to be implemented in 2010.
After six extensions, June 2021 was set as the latest deadline. But so far, not even one-third of the project's land development has been done.
Public Works Secretary Shahid Ullah Khandaker told The Business Standard the project deadline was not extended based on the sole decision of Rajuk or the Public Works Department.
He said inter-ministerial and parliamentary standing committee meetings had decided to extend the deadline for logical reasons.
The project deadline was not extended based on the sole decision of Rajuk or the Public Works Department. Inter-ministerial and parliamentary standing committee meetings had decided to extend the deadline for logical reasons.
During a field visit, The Business Standard found that electricity poles had been set up in six sectors, but connections had been supplied to only three of them.
Drainage had been set up in eight sectors, but no sewerage line had been laid in any sector. No initiative to set up gas connections had been taken either.
Rajuk Chairman Md Sayeed Noor Alam said most of the bridges and culverts have been constructed and more than 50% of road construction has been done as well. The rest of the work is in progress, he added.
"Now the work of setting up electricity, gas and sewerage lines will begin. An agreement has been made with the authorities concerned to this end.
"We are doing our best to get everything done within the next seven months," he continued.
Dhaka Wasa Deputy Managing Director (admin) Md Mahmud Hossain told The Business Standard there are water supply and drainage projects in Purbachal but work could not be started yet.
Officials of the power department and Titas Gas also said the same.
Commercial city construction yet to begin
In 2017, Rajuk revised the original design and took up a plan to build a commercial city on 114 acres of land in sector 19 of the project. The city was expected to have 41 skyscrapers, including the Iconic Legacy Tower and Independence Tower.
The public works secretary said a contract was signed with a Singaporean company in July last year to build the commercial city, but they did nothing.
"For this reason, the agreement has been cancelled and we are contacting several countries, including Japan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, in this regard."
But according to Rajuk sources, the Singaporean company had inspected the land in Purbachal and found that it was not possible to build a building having more than 50 floors there.
High Court directs not to destroy forests
The High Court directed Rajuk in 2017 to implement the project by keeping the forests of Parabarta and Barakau mouzas in Kaliganj intact.
In response to a writ petition filed by environmentalists, the High Court in its order said the project could be implemented in these two areas if a clearance from the environment department mentioning the condition of keeping nature unharmed could be obtained.
But the environment department has not yet given any clearance to Rajuk.
Its Director General Dr AKM Rafique Ahammed told The Business Standard, "We are monitoring everything as per the direction of the High Court. If Rajuk follows the court instructions, we will give the clearance. However, the situation is not like that yet."
Zafar Uddin, a resident of Parabarta, said, "We have not yet given up possessions of more than 60% of the 1,500 acres of land acquired in Parabarta and Barakau mouzas."
He said most of the lands in these two areas are private forests, which are within Bhawal forest. "Rajuk tried on different occasions to build plots there through deforestation. But due to resistance put up by locals, they could not occupy more than 40% of the acquired lands."
Most of the lands in these two areas are private forests, which are within Bhawal forest. Rajuk tried on different occasions to build plots there through deforestation. But due to resistance put up by locals, they could not occupy more than 40% of the acquired lands.
Jahangir Alam, a key member of the committee formed to protect forests in the two mouzas, said Rajuk had cut down about 15,000 trees there."Locals have now started a movement to protect the forest."
Seven environmental and human rights organisations, including Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), filed a writ petition with the High Court seeking a ban on the project on grounds that Rajuk had been implementing it by destroying nature and occupying agricultural lands, water bodies and rivers.
Bela Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan told The Business Standard the project is located in the middle of two rivers – the Balu and the Shitalakshya – and a part of it is in Bhawal forest area.
"Also, a part of it is marked as a flood-flow zone of the capital. There are several canals and reservoirs. Implementing the project by destroying these is illegal."
Over 50 writs filed
According to Rajuk and the Supreme Court sources, a retired joint secretary filed a writ petition with the High Court against the unlawful allotment of 10 kathas of land for each of seven members of the family of Partex Group Chairman MA Hashem.
The first 44 allottees filed a writ petition against the allotment of 500 plots – that had been allotted earlier – to two new people.
Eight more people filed writ petitions over irregularities in allotment of plots.
None of the writs has been disposed of yet.
Barrister Shahriar Kabir, counsel for the writ petitioners, said the project's proper implementation was not possible until the petitions were disposed of.
"This is because the High Court has stayed allotment of plots in several sectors in several petitions," he added.