Shariful Islam, a trader from Mirpur in Dhaka, was happy to have a five-katha plot allotted in Purbachal New Town Project for Tk11 lakh in a lottery by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) in 1996.
But his happiness did not last long. When he went to get his plot registered, he came to know that the same land was allotted to another individual. He applied to Rajuk to rectify the mistake, but the authorities failed to resolve the issue in eight years.
Disgruntled, Shariful then moved the High Court to find a remedy. But his wait is not over yet as the writ petition he filed in 2004 seeking ownership of the Rajuk plot has not been disposed of in nearly 18 years.
"I had to go to the court more than 100 times in the past 17 years and had to spend at least Tk6 lakh. People have already started building houses in other plots around mine in Sector-2 of the Purbachal project," Shariful told The Business Standard.
Government employee Moslem Uddin, the other person who was allotted the same plot after paying the same amount of money, also expressed frustration over the delay in resolving the issue.
One plot, many allottees
Like this case, each of some 577 plots in the Purbachal New Town Project in the outskirts of the capital have been allotted to more than one individual.
Because the affected people did not find a solution from the Rajuk authorities, they chose the court as the last resort for remedy.
According to sources, around 1,500 lawsuits have been filed against Rajuk over different issues relating to the Purbachal project that was initiated in 1995 to construct about 26,000 plots and 60,000 flats, and all of the cases are pending in the court.
Besides the ones in Purbachal, 338 plots in Jhilmil Project, 306 plots in Uttara Third City Project, and 81 apartments in Uttara Apartment Project have been allotted to more than one person.
The sources told TBS that around 8,700 cases filed against Rajuk over various allegations of anomalies in different housing projects, which involve some Tk5,000 crore, are now pending in the court. Around 3,000 of these cases are over 10-year-old, while half of those were filed more than 15 years ago.
About 7,000 of the cases are writ petitions pending in the High Court. The rest are pending in judicial courts.
Apart from these cases, about 1,250 complaints were still pending in Rajuk till December last year, the sources said, adding some of these complaints were lodged 5-8 years ago.
Most of the cases have been filed over allegations of allotting plots violating the law, allotting multiple plots to a single person, wrong mapping and planning, etc, the sources said, adding that many cases have also been filed seeking compensation for land acquisition, and for making proper roads, driveways etc.
In contrast to a piling up of cases, the number of cases disposed of every year has remained very insignificant.
Sources said only 81 writ petitions were disposed of in 2021, while the number was 112 and 208 in the previous two years, respectively.
Barrister Shahriar Kabir, lawyer for eight such writ petitioners, said, "The High Court has ordered stopping plot allotment in different sectors of various Rajuk projects in several cases. If these petitions are not settled, those projects will not go ahead properly."
Speed money rules
Urban planner Adil Muhammad Khan told TBS, "Rajuk is an organisation run by the Ministry of Housing and Public Works. Its job is to serve the people. But those who are in charge of various departments do not do any work without extra money. Its complaint section is also useless. That is why people are filing so many cases."
Apart from anomalies in plot allotment in various housing projects, reported irregularities in approving designs for the construction of buildings in various areas of the capital are also causing more and more aggrieved people to move the court against Rajuk.
Some 1,100 writ petitions filed in this connection are currently pending in the High Court, court sources said.
One Rezaus Samad submitted a design to Rajuk in April 2019 for the construction of a six-storey building on a six-katha plot in the Madhya Badda area of the capital.
"Even though the design was prepared and submitted as per the building construction rules, it was not approved by Rajuk officials. They said they would not approve it unless I paid them extra money," he said.
Urban Planner Iqbal Habib said, "Bribery in design approval is an open secret. If the Rajuk branch concerned can be pleased, you can get approval for even an illegal design."
"There are anomalies in other issues too. Many people have not received proper compensation for land acquisition," he said.
According to sources, there are about 80 writ petitions against Rajuk regarding land acquisition.
What's the way out?
Urban Planner Md Salauddin suggested creating a Planning Inspectorate like in many developed countries including the UK to solve these sorts of cases.
To explain this, he said, "It is a kind of court but not like the judicial court. The difference is that here the judges are experienced planning inspectors who are selected by the government. Here any appeal has to be resolved within a specified time."
"In the context of Bangladesh, its structure may be different, but this organisation can bring all development agencies and municipal planning cells under one umbrella," he added.
Architect Mobasher Hossain said Rajuk should think about how to resolve old cases quickly. "If necessary, it can apply to the chief justice for the disposal of these cases in a specified bench of the High Court within a stipulated time."
He said, "Not only are the litigants being harassed and spending money in these cases, but Rajuk also is spending public money to handle these cases. All this money is being wasted due to the negligence of Rajuk."
ABM Amin Ullah Noori, chairman of Rajuk, said there is a branch of Rajuk and a panel of lawyers to oversee these cases.
"Most of the cases against Rajuk involve several other government agencies and departments. There are also many people as defendants. As a result, there is a little problem in settling these lawsuits. However, steps have already been taken to settle these cases expeditiously," he said.
"A decision has also been taken on how to settle these cases quickly with the help of the Attorney General's Office," added the Rajuk chairman.