A number of Bangladesh Railway's East Zone employees who have been allotted houses in railway colonies in Chattogram city have built accommodations around their residences and rented those to earn money.
Such accommodations have been built on railway lands in different parts of the city, and have mostly been rented to low-income people.
AKM Shamsuddin Bakhtiar is the electric feeder of the East Zone's electronics division. The class III employee built 40 tin-roofed rooms around his house on the railway's residential premises on Shahid Lane in the city's Akbar Shah area.
Tenants there said they pay between Tk2,500 and Tk4,000 in monthly rent depending on the size of the room.
Shamsuddin's rental income from the rooms is around Tk1 lakh per month.
When contacted, he said he saw no problem with such accommodations as the lands on which those were built were unused.
"I followed the lead of others who have done the same," he said.
Like Shamsuddin, other employees of different railway departments living in Shahid Lane have built 20-40 rooms each around their houses. The area now seems like a slum.
Sources said 353 rooms have been built on the playground in New Jhautala Railway Colony, and also around eight multi-storey residential buildings. The rooms have been rented out.
Requesting anonymity, many of the tenants there said they opted for these rooms because rent is low. They pay a fixed utility bill no matter how much gas and electricity they use.
They also said gas connections were snapped two months ago but they do not know why.
Apart from railway employees, some outsiders have also constructed high-rise buildings and enterprises on railway lands using political influence. Some railway officers are reluctant to live in the colonies because of the illegally-built accommodations.
Asking not to be named, a mechanical department official told The Business Standard, "The slums are ruining the environment of the colonies and there is also security concern. It is impossible for me to live there with my family members."
"I am not living in the house allotted by the railway. I live in a rented flat instead," he added.
Railways sources said 442 acres of railway lands in Dhaka and Chattogram divisions have been occupied illegally. However, different sources at the railway said the actual figure would be much higher.
Moreover, the accommodations built around the houses of the East Zone workers in Chattogram are not included in this record of 442 acres.
Ishrat Reza, chief land resources officer of the East Zone, said almost 103 acres of railway land were reclaimed during eviction drives carried out between July 1 and December 15 last year.
"Of this, 59 acres are in Dhaka, and 44 acres in Chattogram. 25 drives were carried out in Chattogram, demolishing 8,180 structures and evicting 13,678 people. In Dhaka, the authorities demolished 9,384 structures in 25 drives, and evicted 21,692 people," he added.
The central executive president of the Railway Sramik League, Lokman Hossain, said it would not harm anyone if railway employees built extra rooms around their allotted houses for personal use.
"But it is definitely illegal to rent the rooms to outsiders," he added.
Ishrat said the government is sincere about reclaiming railway lands.
"A good number of eviction drives have already been carried out successfully. The railway authorities will gradually free all their lands from illegal occupation," he added.