Benazir threatened minorities into selling their land

Former IGP Benazir and his family established the Savanna Eco Resort and Natural Park, forcefully buying the land from the minority community in Gopalganj Sadar upazilaSavanna

Around 600 bighas of land has been purchased in the names of former inspector general of police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed and his family. Almost all of this land belonged to members of the Hindu community. They say they had no alternative but to sell the land. They were threatened, coerced and forced in various ways to sell the land.

Visiting Gopalganj and Madaripur, it was learnt while speaking to the Hindu families there who had sold their land, that Benazir Ahmed had assigned a police officer to carry out the task for purchasing the land from them. Members of the police and RAB would supervise the construction of the Benazir family resort there. They would be used to cultivate watermelons and other agricultural work. A field level police official even admitted this to Prothom Alo. He said, when a senior officer commands, there is nothing we can do.

There are ponds, agricultural farms, places for guests to stay, helipads and other facilities at the Savanna Eco Resort and Natural Park owned by the former IGP Benazir Ahmed's family
from Savanna Resort website

Benazir Ahmed bought this land and built this resort while he was IGP (April 2020-Sepember 2022) and RAB director general (January 2015-April 2020).

Swarasati Roy (62) of the village Borokhola in Rajoir upazila, Madaripur, from whom land was purchased, was asked why she sold her land. The moment this question was posed to her, she began to wail, telling Prothom Alo, “I bought this bit of land (31 decimals) with such difficulty, taking a loan with interest. I had to relinquish that piece of land.” Who took the land? “Benazir.” Who is Benazir? “A big police officer,” so she heard.

‘If you don’t agree, you’ll lose your land and money’

Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigations have so far found out that Benazir and his family have 621 bighas of land in their names, 598 bighas of which are located in Gopalganj Sadar upazila and Rajoir upazila in Madaripur. These are adjoining upazilas. And the land owned by the Benazir family is along the borders or the two upazilas. The villages of those areas are populated by members of the Hindu community.

Benazir Ahmed has built a resort there, called Savanna Eco Resort and Natural Park. Rooms are rented out there to visitors. One can visit the resort for a 100 taka entrance fee. According to the resort website, there is a farm within the resort, boat ride facilities, children’s play area, a helipad and other facilities.

Savanna Eco Resort and Natural Park owned by the police's former inspector general Benazir Ahmed's family. Photo taken last Tuesday at Bairagitol in Sahapur Union, Gopalganj Sadar
Prothom Alo

The resort is located in the remote village Bairagirtola of Saharpur union, Gopalganj Sadar upazila. During a visit to that village and the adjacent village of Domrashur on Thursday, these correspondents spoke to 27 members of families who had sold their land. Of them, 25 said that they had been unwilling to sell their land but were forced to do so. Police inspector Taimur Islam threatened them into selling the land.

On condition of anonymity, a man of Bairagirtola who sold his land, said that Benazir's family had bought three bighas of his ancestral land. He said, a police inspector would approach the land owners on behalf of Benazir Ahmed. He would go to them and say, "I am a good officer, that is why I am ensuring that you get some money. If you refuse to sell your land, your land will go and you won't get paid."

A young man of Bariagirtola, Sanjay Bol, was sitting at a tea stall near Savanna Eco resort. He told Prothom Alo that Benazir had forcefully bought 30 bighas of his family's ancestral land. When the land was being bought and sold in 2018 and 2019, Benazir had been the director general of RAB.

Those who sold their land said that Benazir's men would adopt a certain ploy if anyone was unwilling to sell their land. They would buy land all around and then obstruct entrance. The common people would then be forced to sell their land. All of the 12 persons who sold their land in Borokhola village of Kadambari union in Rajoir, Madaripur, said they were all forced to do so in this manner.

Benazir Ahmed's family's fish food manufacturing factory. 28 May, Bairagitol, Sahapur union, Gopalganj Sadar
Prothom Alo

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Borokhola village's Prasanta Dutta said they were well-off. They had no need to sell their land. They had no desire to sell their ancestral land either. He and his two brothers were forced to sell 24 bighas of land.

Some Hindu families were forced to sell all their land. Swarasati Roy of Borokhola, over 60 years old, was one such person. She said her husband Niranjan Roy had bought this piece of land (31 decimals) 20 years ago. She was forced to sell that land. Outside of that, their homestead consists of 5 decimals of land and a small hut.

Niranjan has passed away. His son Ranjan Roy runs the family as a day labourer. He told Prothom Alo, they would survive round the year on the rice from the land that has now been sold to Benazir. Now they even have to buy their own rice.

Leaders of the Hindu community said that all throughout the year land belonging to Hindus was being grabbed or forcefully bought. Benazir Ahmed's incident is a new instance of this. General Secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad, Rana Dasgupta, told Prothom Alo yesterday, Friday, land was taken from the minorities by threat, harassment and assault. They had heard that Benazir Ahmed had done the same in Gopalganj. They would go to the spot and investigate.

Benazir Ahmed
From Benazir Ahmed’s Facebook page

Land registered, living owner shown as dead

Those who sold their land said that none of them had seen Benazir Ahmed, his wife and children when handing over their land deeds. Some of them were taken to the sub-registry office, some to the resorts, to sign over their land deeds.

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Cow shed at the farm owned by Benazir Ahmed's family. 28 may, Bairagitol, Saharpur union, Gopalganj Sadar
Prothom Alo

In certain cases of joint land ownership, some of the owners were shown as deceased to facilitate the sale of the land. This happened in the case of Pranab Biswas of Borokhola village in Rajoir. They were three brothers. Pranab said his younger brother Purnendu Biswas went to India in 1988 and he died there. Purnendu's two sons and two daughters live in India. Another brother of Pranab, Prasanta Biswas, went to India a year ago and hasn't returned.

Pranab contended that Benazir Ahmed's family trapped them into selling 142 decimals (about 4.5 bighas) which had belonged to the three brothers. They depicted two brothers as being dead and with no wards. Only Pranab's signature was taken on the deed. "Now the people of the area say I misappropriated by brothers' land. But no one knows under what compulsion I did this."

According to Pranab, there had been certain conflict over ownership of his homestead land. Taking advantage of that, a false document was drawn up for his homestead land. Police inspector Taimur Islam told him he would be evicted from his homestead if he didn't sell the land near Benazir's resort.

An inheritance certificate from the union parishad is required to sell ancestral land. Land can't be sold without that certificate. Pranab said that he hadn't collected any papers. Police officer Taimur did it all.

The Rajoir upazila's Kadambari union parishad chairman Babu Bidhan Biswas was asked if any inheritance certificate had been issued in the name of Pranab. He told Prothom Alo that no false certificate of inheritance had been issued by the union parishad.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Sukh Deb Bol, student of Gopalganj's Bangabandhu College, was electrocuted and died in 2020 while working on the agricultural farm in the Benazir family resort. His brother Subrata Bol told Prothom Alo that their father Shusen Bol wanted to take legal action about Sukh Deb's death. However, police inspector Taimur threatened them and so they couldn't file any case. Taimur said he would give Subrata a government job in exchange of their silence. They got neither any government job nor any compensation.

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A call was made to Taimur Islam's mobile phone to ask about his role in the purchase of land for Benazir Ahmed's family, but from the other end of the phone it was said that he was busy. Later no one answered his phone. Questions were sent in writing, but he did not reply. In the ACC case, Taimur's permanent address has been recorded as a house on Khan Jahan Ali Road in Khulna Sadar. A visit to the house found no one of his family there.

In the meantime, Prothom Alo's investigations reveal that a seven and a half katha plot of land in Khulna's Mayuri residential area was allocated by the Khulna Development Authority in the name of Benazir Ahmed's three daughters. It is said that Taimur arranged to acquire the land on behalf of Benazir Ahmed. Taimur would claim to be the nephew of a former mayor of Khulna.

There are allegations that a certain Apurba Bol of Gopalganj assisted Taimur in buying land. In 2022 he was made the Saharpur union Awami League joint general secretary. He told Prothom Alo, "Sir (Benazir) did not buy land by force." He claims that Benazir Ahmed had nothing to do with his being made the union Awami League general secretary.

RAB-police members would work at the resort

Though the government had no link with Benazir Ahmed's report, members of RAB and the police would work there. Several of the residents of the village in the resort area and the day labourers who would work at the resort, told Prothom Alo that until Benazir went on retirement, certain members of the police and RAB would supervise work on the resort. Two sub-inspectors, Bachchu Miah and Shahjalal, spent the most time in this duty.

Bachchu Miah now works at the Khulna Police Training Centre. Speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday, he said that he had been working with RAB-8 from 2018 till 2021. He said that at that time he went to the resort several times upon orders from senior officers. He would supervise the workers there.

Benazir Ahmed had been the RAB DG at the time when Bachchu Miah would go to the resort to make sure the work was being done properly. About being engaged in work for a senior officer's family business, Bachchu Miah said, "If ordered, there is nothing we can do."

According to the local people, SI Shahjahan was in charge of the watermelon cultivation at the Benazir family's resort. It is not know where he is working at present. When a call was made on Thursday to his mobile number, he said, "I will come to your office in the afternoon and give you all the details." He did not turn up and has not received any further calls.

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Local residents and police sources say that a woman additional superintendent of police had been in charge of supervising the Benazir family resort.

There are allegations of people beating up anyone going to catch fish at the water bodies near around the Benazir family's resort. Local fisherman Nitya Bala told Prothom Alo, it was a year ago when he had gone to the Machhkandi bil (marsh) one night to catch fish. Benazir's fish enclosure was a little distance from there. While he was catching fish in the bil, suddenly police came up in four boats and grabbed him and two others and took them to the resort where they beat them up and then took them to the police station.

Nitya said they had to pay 10,000 taka to escape a false case of stealing fish. They never got their boats or fishing equipment back.

Rajoir police station's sub-inspector Lokman Hossain, however, told Prothom Alo that it was the resort staff, not the police, who had caught Nitya Bala. Later the police was informed and he was sent to the police station. As there was no written complaint, he was released. No money was taken.

Senior police officials cannot employ members of the police for their personal or business purposes. If that is done, that is an offence and is criminal. He said, government officials can purchase land, but in keeping with the regulations and with legitimate earnings.
Nur Mohammad, former IGP and former Awami League MP

Resort has no environmental clearance

Benazir family's resort had been made on low lying land. Clearance from the department of environment is required to make such a resort.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, assistant director Gopalganj district department of Environment, Mahfuzur Rahman, told Prothom Alo a one-year provisionary clearance certificate had been taken for a resort being made on 11 acres of land. That expired in September 2023. A provisionary certificate had been taken for an agricultural farm of 8 acres of land. That expired in June 2023. Mahfuzur Rahman said, after the provisionary certificate a final environmental certificate is to be taken. However, Savanna Resort did not apply for this clearance.

'That is an offence and criminal'

Allegations have recently been levelled against Benazir Ahmed and his family for resorting to corruption and irregularities to amass massive wealth and property. After that, the Anti-Corruption Commission took up investigation into his wealth outside known sources of income. Till now ACC has discovered 621 bighas of land, shares in 19 companies, four flats in Gulshan, savings certificates of Tk 3 million (Tk 30 lakh), 33 bank accounts and three BO accounts. This property and wealth has been seized and frozen at court order.

Various attempts were made to contact Benazir Ahmed and his family to get their comments, but to no avail. He was not available over phone. He did not reply to any questions sent over phone, WhatsApp and email.

An attempt was made to enter Savanna Resort on Tuesday afternoon, but entry has now allowed. No one was willing to talk either. Benazir is from Tungipara, Gopalganj. He does not live there. He was not at his Gulshan apartment either. After ACC began its investigations, Benazir Ahmed has not been seen in public. A certain police source says that he has gone to Singapore with his family.

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Former IGP and former Awami League MP Nur Mohammad was asked about the forceful purchase of land from Hindus and the misuse of power to employ police and RAB members for personal work. He told Prothom Alo yesterday, Friday, senior police officials cannot employ members of the police for their personal or business purposes. If that is done, that is an offence and is criminal. He said, government officials can purchase land, but in keeping with the regulations and with legitimate earnings. It must be seen in Benazir's case whether this was followed or not and what is the source of the money.

Incidentally, while in government service, Benazir Ahmed did not take permission from the government to purchase land or open any business establishment.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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