It was cropland. A low-lying area, it looked more like a shallow waterbody in the rainy season while paddy and vegetable plants danced in the winds for the rest of the year.
That land beside the Dhaka-Aricha highway, about 30 kilometers away from the capital, was made into a waste dumping site in 2007.
More than a decade later, Aminbazar landfill has become what the villagers of Konda and Baliarpur in Savar feared the most -- a threat to the lives and livelihoods.
The Aminbazar landfill occupies 52 acres, but uncontrolled disposal of waste from the capital city has been polluting air, water and lands of the two villages in the worst possible way.
As a result, the economic activities like cultivation and fishing of at least 22,000 villagers have been affected, as forecast by Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) before the landfill started its operation.
Rains wash away all kinds of waste including plastic into adjacent lands.
During dry seasons, the leachate draining off waste materials contaminates the soil, forcing farmers to give up on cultivable lands.
The pieces of lands a bit far from the site also get polluted by waste that hawks, crows and rodents feed on and leave on their trail.
Similar case is visible in the nearby waterbodies and streams.
The air is so filled with gases emitting from rotting garbage that the stench hits anyone's nose even miles away.
The perils of villagers
Farmers and fishermen are now being forced to become day labourers and workers in brick kilns and other factories nearby. More than anything else, they blame the government for rendering them landless and snatching their means of income.
The land of the dumping site was acquired by the then Dhaka City Corporation in 2005, ignoring strong protests by villagers who claimed that they were paid much less than the market price of the land in those days.
One of them is 60-year-old Abul Bashar. His sixty-five decimals of land went into the landfill.
Now he cultivates crops on leased-out land, which proves to be a daunting task when he has to pick broken plastics, ceramics chunks and polythene from the soil before plantation.
"In the last week of January, one of my feet was pierced by a needle," Abul said pointing to the injury and cuts on his foot by sharp objects.
As he spoke, some other farmers gathered at a tea stall on the edge of the low-lying agricultural lands, where the earth inclined upwards to give way for housing.
Standing there, one can see heaps of trash in the middle of the sub-flood flow zone, as defined by the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan. The plan demarcates flood plains to preserve them so that they can function as natural drainage system.
Sixty-eight-year old Farid Ahmed incurred the highest loss of land. One-fifth land of the dumping site was owned by his family alone, he said.
Even an additional 21 acres that the Dhaka North City Corporations is currently using for waste disposal without acquiring it, includes 100 decimals owned by Farid.
A waste management official of the DNCC acknowledged the use of land which is yet to be demarcated as part of the landfill.
More than 3,000 tonnes of waste is dumped into the landfill every day. A spill-over of the waste means contamination of local water resources as well.
Locals said the water quality of nearby Karnapara khal deteriorated fast since the waste dumping began, with industries and brick kilns already contributing to the pollution.
"No fish can survive in this contaminated water," said local Shambhu Rajbangshi, standing at the rear of his house, a few steps from the canal flowing downstream.
Fishing in this canal once brought him good fortune and he built a concrete house.
Now he mostly works on others' fish farms. When there is no work, he buys fish from New Market in Dhaka to sell them in the locality.
Legal fight against Rajuk, City Corporation went nowhere
The harsh ramifications of environmental pollution were predicted by locals during the land acquisition.
"At the time, government officials assured us that it would be a sanitary landfill, and would not cause any harm. But you get foul smell even at my house half a mile away," said Farid, lamenting that a writ petition against the landfill that he filed jointly with Bela in 2006, was still stuck at the High Court.
In the latest update in 2010, the court asked for an assessment report from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha and the city corporation cited fund shortage as the reason for failing to get the report within the time given (four months).
The court issued further orders for the report that is yet to be submitted.
Meanwhile, the jurisdiction of the court that was hearing the writ petition changed.
City Corporation to take environemental steps
Meanwhile, seeking anonymity a waste management official of DNCC said the authority has a plan to acquire additional 100 acres at Aminbazar for waste management.
When his attention was drawn to locals' grievances against pollution and low prices for their land, the official said, sufficient compensation would be given this time and measures would be taken to contain pollution.
However, he did not elaborate on how much sufficient compensation would be.
About containing pollution, he said vent pipes will be installed to release gas from the landfill through a controlled channel and soil cover will be added on top of the garbage so that birds and pests do not get to the waste materials.
Leachate is being drained out from the piles of waste and treated for the last six months.
The DNCC official also said the situation around the landfill would improve in the next two years.
It is time to see if the promises are kept or broken this time. The damage done so far is, however, irreversible.
AH Maqsood Sinha, executive director of Waste Concern, an organisation working on improving waste management and recycling in the country, said Aminbazar landfill was an uncontrolled dumping site, far from meeting the standards of a sanitary landfill.
The more cost-effective solution could be controlled landfill, in which a layer of clay is added on the ground and sides, instead of an impermeable liner at sanitary landfills, to stop leachate from being soaked by the soil and contaminating the ground and surface water.
Sinha said that once the water resources are polluted, it would take a thousand years to reverse the damage.