Ashok Kumar Das, a well-known lawyer in Faridpur, not only lost his land to the expelled Faridpur Awami League general secretary Sajjad Hossain (Barkat) and brother Imtiaz Hasan (Rubel), he lost his life too. The people of Faridpur were well aware of incident but were too scared to speak out. They are only now revealing the details of this incident, after the arrest of the two brothers.
The two notorious brothers are now in jail. They were closely associated with the Faridpur member of parliament and former minister Mosharraf Hossain and his brother Khondokar Mohtesham Hossain (Babar). They used this association to carry out their extortion, land grabbing and other criminal activities.
Eleven cases were levelled against them after they were arrested on 7 June. During police interrogation and in their statements made in court, they admitted to forcefully taking over lawyer Ashok Kumar Das' land. The story of these two brothers' misdeeds was published on 28 July in Prothom Alo.
Rubel eyes the land
Ashok Das was the son of Ashutosh Das of the village Macchalandapur in Kamarkhali union of Madhukhali upazila, Faridpur. His maternal grandfather Rai Bahadur Binod Lal Bhadra was a lawyer of the judge court during the British rule. He had gifted his grandson Ashok Das 25.44 decimals of land on Tamizuddin Khan Road of Dakkhin Kalibari in the town. Ashok built a house there, where he had been residing.
Ashok Das had no children and had some close relatives living with him at the house. It was located in an important locality of Faridpur town. This costly property caught Rubel's eye and he began to put on pressure to grab it. He finally forced Ashok to sell the property and on 3 October 2017, registered the sale agreement (bayna) in his name. The price was fixed at Tk 35.6 billion (Tk 3 crore 65 lakh). According to the sale agreement, he made a down payment of Tk 7 million (Tk 70 lakh). The agreement stated that the remaining Tk 28.6 million (Tk 2 crore 86 lakh) would be paid within 6 months.
Ashok Das died at the age of 78. His death remains shrouded in mystery. It is alleged that he was murdered
A person who had been present at the time that the agreement was made, on condition of anonymity told Prothom Alo that Ashok Das had been unwell at the time. Four persons had gone to his house and physically lifted him up and brought him to the first floor of the Krishi Bank office. The sale agreement was drawn up there. Ashok Das was pale, trembling and unable to speak. A person named Kumaresh Dutta who had been living at Ashok Das' home for long, took the Tk 7 million.
Faridpur judge court lawyer Zahid Hossain had been involved in the sales agreement. He told Prothom Alo that Rubel did not adhere to the conditions of the agreement and did not pay the remaining amount to register the land.
Exactly one year six months and three days after the sales agreement was signed, Ashok Das died at the age of 78. His death remains shrouded in mystery. It is alleged that he was murdered. The very day after he died, three tin-roofed structures on his land were demolished. Then a boundary wall was raised up and Rubel took over the property.
Living in that house, other than Ashok Das, were lawyer Akritadar Kumaresh Dutta and his assistant Prafulla Biswas with wife and daughter. Prafulla Biswas told Prothom Alo that a day after Ashok Das died, Rubel asked all of them to vacate the premises. They left in fear.
So-called brother from India turns up
On 8 September 2019, five months after Ashok Das' death, a certain Indian national called Ashim Kumar Das turned up in Faridpur along with his nephew Aritra Das. He claimed to be the brother of Ashok Das. He showed papers indicating he was a permanent resident of Dakkhin Kalibari, having a birth certificate issued by the pourashava. He claimed to the sole heir of the land and facilitated the registry of the property. Though the sales agreement was in Rubel's name, the land was registered in the name of Rubel's business partner Jamal Ahmed Khan.
An eye-witness said that Rubel was the first witness of the registration and the second witness was Aritra Kumar Das, claiming to be Ashim's nephew.
Prothom Alo investigations revealed that Rubel drew up the plans to grab the land after Ashok's death. He brought Ashim, ostensibly Ashok's brother, and nephew Aritra, from Baharampur in India's West Bengal, to Faridpur twice in 2019, once in August and once in October. There are records at the Benapole land port showing their entry in October, but nothing about their entry in August. This was revealed by the Faridpur police detective branch (DB) officer-in-charge (OC) Sunil Karmakar. They stayed twice, in eight-day stints, at the Padma Hotel in the town.
Manager of the Padma Hotel, Ashish Nag, told Prothom Alo that two days before Ashim and Aritra came to stay at the hotel on 1 August 2019, Shital Tikadar, a lawyer of the town, made the booking for them. Shital Tikadar and another lawyer Zahid Hossain, kept in contact with them after their arrival.
Ashim and Aritra permanently resided in India, but had provided false information to the pourashava and got their birth and inheritance certificates issued
When asked about the matter, Shital Tikadar told Prothom Alo that he simply had identified Ashim and Aritra and knew nothing further. Lawyer Zahid Hossain said that after Rubel violated the contract, he no longer remained attached to the process.
Pourashava issued false certificates
The Faridpur pourashava issued a birth certificate to Ashim on 26 August 2019, indicating he was a permanent resident of Dakhhin Kalibari in Faridpur town. The pourashava did not only issue this Indian national a birth certificate, it also issued a certificate showing him to be the heir of Ashok Das.
According to the certificate signed by the Faridpur pourashava mayor Sheikh Mahtab Ali, Ashok Das had named Ashim and Aritra as his heirs at the time of his death.
Inheritance and birth certificates cancelled
After registering the land, Ashim and Aritra returned to India. On the night of 7 June after the police arrested Rubel and Barkat, everything was reversed. Allegations arose of the forgery in the registration of Ashok's land. On 4 August, Faridpur pourashava cancelled the birth and inheritance certificates of Ashim and Aritra.
In the report concerning the cancellation of the certificates, it was said that Ashim and Aritra permanently resided in India, but had provided false information to the pourashava and got their birth and inheritance certificates issued.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, the Faridpur pourashava mayor Sheikh Mahtab Ali said he had signed the certificates in good faith as it had been recommended by the pourashava councillor Nasir Uddin. The certificates had been issued on the basis of the application submitted by Kumaresh Dutta who lived in Ashok Das' house.
However, Kumaresh Dutta told Prothom Alo that he had made no such application and had no idea who did so.
Shipra Goswami, president of the local civil society organisation, Faridpur Shochetan Nagorik Committee, told Prothom Alo that a certain group had grabbed the land in an organised manner and those who had issued the forged certificates were in collusion with them. She demanded legal action against all involved in the scam.
Lawyer Shital Tikadar had supervised the operation of bringing Ashim and Aritra over from India and having the land registered. He was paid handsomely for the task. However, he denied his involvement. He told Prothom Alo that he knew nothing about those certificates. He simply identified Ashim Kumar Das as Ashok Das' brother and Aritra as the nephew.
How did he know them, since they had been living in India for so long? Shital Tikadar replied, "I identified them by the similarity in their appearance."
Land as collateral for loan
Lawyer Ashok Das died on 6 April 2019 and there are widespread speculations in the town that this death was not natural.
After Ashok's land was taken over, a certain Jamal Ahmed Khan hurriedly used the land as collateral to take a loan from Pubali Bank. The bank's manager Mohammed Hafizur Rahman did not disclose the amount of the loan. Jamal Ahmed Khan also did not reveal any details. But police officials say that Rubel and Barkat would use their grabbed lands as collateral to take loans in this manner.
Ashok Das has passed away, leaving no inheritors. The house lies empty with a bank mortgage notice hanging at the front. Rubel and Barkat, who had grabbed the property, are now behind bars. Their close associates have fled too. The vacant house of Ashok Kumar stands there as witness to the reign of oppression and fraud.
* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir