It has been over two decades but Saiful Islam's dream of owning a house in the capital still remains elusive as he invested in a housing project which is still under water.
Like him, more than 3,000 people have bought plots in the third phase of the Uttara Residential Model Town project – taken by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) in 1999 – but what they have so far got is mere papers.
The housing project has witnessed extension to its deadline three times so far but has made no headway yet because of alleged laxity on the part of Rajuk.
Saiful Islam, who was allotted a plot on the Road-4 of Sector-17, said, "We do not know when we will get our plots. Rajuk has given us only papers."
However, Rajuk claimed that 80% of work of plot development has been completed. The remaining 20% work has remained stuck for the last two years owing to a case filed over cancellation of contracts with two companies on allegation of irregularities.
Rajuk said they have no idea when the project work resumes.
Some 5,000 plots have already been handed over to owners before development work is completed.
But, plot owners could not build houses on their plots as there are no road and sewerage lines. Water, electricity and gas connections have also not been established.
Project duration extended for 11 years
Some 2,008 acres of land was acquired in Diabari and Panchabati areas of Uttara for the third phase of Uttara Residential Model Town project in 1999 for 8,295 plots.
Three new sectors – sector 15, 16, 17 – were added to the Uttara Extended Housing Project.
The project was expanded in 2009 and 200 acres of lands were added. About 18,000 flats are to be built on this land in sector-18.
So far, 5,000 plots in 15-18 sectors have been handed over to owners. Land development work, plot demarcation and handing over of the remaining 3,295 plots have not been completed yet.
Almost all plots were allotted more than a decade ago and the plot owners also paid the money.
The project was supposed to be completed by 2010. But, the duration of the project has been extended three times. It is now expected to be completed by June 2021.
Initially, the cost of the project was estimated at Tk2,044 crore. The expenditure was later increased by another Tk296 crore to Tk2,340 crore.
Project Director Abdul Awal claimed that most development work on the project has been completed. Now, water, sewerage, electricity and gas lines will be connected.
He said, "Work on eight out of 12 bridges in the entire project has been completed. About 80km of the 165km road has been constructed. The project is expected to be completed by the middle of next year."
However, The Business Standard found many discrepancies between the description of the project's progress given by the project director and the statements of the plot owners.
Sohrab Hossain, one of the plot owners and a government employee, told The Business Standard that after getting the plots through a lottery, he took a loan from a bank and paid the full amount seven years ago.
But the road in front of his plot on road-8 in Sector-16 has not been completed yet. No utility connections have also not been established. As a result, it is not possible to build a house there even if a plot owner wants it. He said the situation is more or less the same everywhere.
On a field visit to the project area, it was seen that land development work of less than half of the three sectors of the project is still incomplete. Work on roads has not started in some areas. Work on water and sewerage lines are yet to begin there. Work on installing underground electricity transmission lines has not been taken up yet.
Md Kausar Ameer Ali, managing director of Dhaka Electric Supply Company (Desco), said, "We have received a demand letter to supply electricity to the project area. But the working environment has not been created yet."
Md Mahmud Hossain, deputy managing director (admin) of Wasa, also echoed the same sentiment. "If the road and plot development work is not completed, it will not be possible to start work on setting up water or sewerage lines."
Development work stuck because of a lawsuit
Although Rajuk had contracts with two contractors for work on plot and road development in the project, the contracts were cancelled in 2016 due to irregularities. Rajuk later signed agreements with two other contractors to finish the development work.
But the two previous contractors filed a lawsuit in the same year, challenging the validity of their contract cancellation. Two years later, on 4 March 2018, the court imposed a temporary ban on Rajuk's contracts with the two new contractors.
That ban is still in force and development work has also remained suspended.
Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, a lawyer for the two organisations who filed the case, told The Business Standard, "The court has ordered a ban on development work of the project. So, the new contractors will not be able to work until the case is settled."
He said the next hearing of the case will be held on 28 December. A verdict may come that day.
Trouble with new contractors
Officials from the two new contractors, Eva Corporation and Mars Syndicate, said it will take about 540,000 cubic metres of soil to fill the site. But they have been given work orders of 277,000 cubic metres.
They said, "We continue working till 2018. We have filled about 2,77,558 cubic metres of soil. A large amount of the bill for this work is still unpaid. Now, Rajuk is waiting for the verdict of the court."
They said it is not possible to start construction work unless the land development is completed.
Project Director Abdul Awal said in this regard, "If the case is settled, the project site will be re-surveyed and new contractors will be given work orders. If there is any problem with them, it will be resolved through discussion."
State Minister for Housing and Public Works Sharif Ahmed told The Business Standard, "All initiatives have been taken to complete the project within the next year. Hopefully, by the end of next year, plot owners will be able to start building houses."
However, Urban Planner Professor Nazrul Islam said, "Considering the way the work has so far been gone, there will be nothing strange if the project takes another decade to be completed."