Web of corruption of minister's men

Prothom Alo illustration

A coterie of influential people has bought nearly 62.5 acres at an inflated price 20 times more than the actual price of the land chosen by the government for the Chandpur Science & Technology University.

Allegations have it that the influential people, reportedly close to education minister Dipu Moni and her close relatives, are involved with the process to extract about Tk 3.59 billion (359 crore) more from the government than to be spent for land acquisition. They have completed deeds in their names for land in No. 10 Lakshmipur union in Chandpur sadar upazila even before the administration has given approval to acquire land. Later, these lands were chosen by the proposed university authorities and requested the district administration to acquire these.

A report of the district administration about this in last November said the government gave approval for land acquisition on 6 April 2021. Following this the district administration constituted a 13-member committee for land acquisition as it found the price of land exorbitantly inflated.

The committee found 139 deeds registered at exorbitantly high prices (20 times more than the actual price) after scrutinising deeds of that ‘mouza’. Those deeds were made between 18 May 2020 and 15 May 2021, which means after the beginning of activities related to the university.

Another 40 deeds, registered at the same time, were found to mention a somewhat normal land price, fixed by the government. That means the inflated price is shown in deeds of places selected for the construction of the university.

Local people alleged that the lands were taken from them forcefully. Some were paid a lump sum as price of land while some were just assured that they would be paid after getting the land acquisition money from the government. Only the owners of agricultural land were paid some money.

Chairman of No. 10 Lakshmipur union in Chandpur sadar upazila, Md Selim Khan, is reportedly behind everything. He is known in Chandpur district as close to education minister Dipu Moni.

The documents reveal over 23 acres (2,305 decimal) of land was bought in the name of chairman Selim Khan and his relatives. Among them, 441 decimals were bought in the name of Selim Khan’s son Shahin Khan, 428 decimals in the name of Shanto Khan, 430 decimals in the name of Selim Khan’s daughter Selina Begum and 170 decimals in the name of Pinky Akther. As much as 362 decimals of land was bought in the name of Selim Khan himself while 118 decimals of land for his business firm, Selim Enterprise, and 353 decimals in the name of Jewel, one of his employees.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Selim Khan claimed that he has been buying land for a long time for making a film city. He did not know that the Chandpur Science & Technology University will be constructed there, he added.

Education minister Dipu Moni’s brother, Jawadur Rahim Wadud, has bought 5.68 acres of land, the highest in an individual’s name. A deed was made in the name of the minister’s cousin and Faridganj upazila parishad chairman, Jahidul Islam, with 161 decimals of land. Ninety three decimals have been registered in the name of Ayub Ali, vice-chairman of Chandpur sadar upazila and known as close to the minister, while 37 decimals have been registered in the name of Tutul Majumder, the minister’s personal assistant (political affairs).

Jawadur Rahim claimed he requested Selim Khan to help him buy some land for a hospital and an old age home. He started buying land a little at a time a long time before the land was fixed for the university and primary approval given.

“But when I found out that no hospital or old age home could be constructed there as land has been chosen for the university, I sold my land in December. I also thought I should not make profit from the land as the education minister is my younger sister,” he added.

The district administration sources, however, said during scrutiny, the land acquisition committee found deeds in the name of Jawadur Rahim of 568 decimals of land in May last year. It does not have any information on whether he handed over the land or not.

Contradicting the statements of Selim Khan and Jawadur Rahim, Faridganj upazila parishad chairman Jahidul Islam told Prothom Alo that they bought the land in a planned way to facilitate faster construction of the university. “I haven’t bought the land from anyone forcefully. There will be some business if I buy some land there. That’s why I bought the land for business.”

Though Jahidul Islam claimed he bought the land after the land was chosen for the university, actually he bought the land just before the administrative order to acquire the land.

District administration’s analysis

The draft act of Chandpur Science & Technology University got final approval from the cabinet on 23 December 2019. The Chandpur Science & Technology University Bill was passed in the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) on 9 September 2020 while the administrative order for land acquisition was approved on 6 April 2021. The people close to the minister made deeds in their names between 18 May 2020 and 15 May 2021. Later, those lands were selected for the construction of the university and asked the district administration to acquire those.

The land acquisition department of the district administration said the government will have to spend at best Tk 1.94 billion (calculating the compensation three times of actual price as per the directives of prime minister Sheikh Hasina) for 62.5 acres of land if the price is calculated considering the actual price of land in the mouza. But the government will have to spend Tk 5.53 billion if the deeds, prepared showing inflated price, are taken into cognizance to pay the compensation. That means the government will have to spend Tk 3.59 billion more.

Chandpur deputy commissioner sent a report on it to the land ministry secretary on 16 November last year. It said the education ministry on 6 April that year gave approval to acquire 62.549 acres of land from sadar upazila’s No. 115 Lakshmipur mouza for the Chandpur Science & Technology University. Following this, the district administration received a proposal to finalise the details and complete the land acquisition on 11 April 2021. The university authorities chose the land to be acquired.

The report further said as per the sub-register’s office the market price of every decimal agricultural land in that mouza is Tk 13,802. In comparison with the list of price of different types of land, fixed in 2016 and kept at the sub-registry office, the rate of price for land acquisition of “unnaturally high (20.4 times)”. The price has increased since the beginning of the activities related to the university.

Pointing to ulterior motives, the DC office report said the government would have incurred a loss of Tk 359 crore 16 lakhs if the land acquisition rate was estimated considering the “extremely abnormal” deeds. At the same time, people would have faced different problems including handing over the land. That’s why the money estimated for the land acquisition, considering the other deeds of the mouza except those “extremely abnormal” deeds, is about Tk 1.94 billion.

Wishing not to be named, two officials of the district administration told Prothom Alo that Lakshmipur union chairman Md Selim Khan filed a plea with the land ministry to increase the estimated amount of money amending the district administration’s estimation. A writ was filed with the High Court but that was turned down. Selim Khan filed another writ with the court.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Chandpur DC, Anjana Khan Majlish, said she has made an estimate of how much money would be required for the land acquisition and informed the concerned authorities. The aggrieved people have filed a case with the High Court against her estimate. She declined to say anything more as the trial is underway.

‘Don’t fish in troubled water’

DC office sources said the education ministry has selected the land for Chandpur Science and Technology University. Four months before the administrative approval of the land acquisition, UP chairman Selim Khan applied to the education minister for selecting some specific lands for the university. The education minister gave a nod by making a recommendation on the application of the chairman.

Local sources said Selim Khan started filling the land of people forcibly saying that a university would be built on those lands. He made the deeds showing higher prices of the lands and giving less amount of money to the owners. Some owners did not even receive any money for their lands.

Selim claimed all these allegations as false and told Prothom Alo that he did not know a university would be built here while purchasing the land.

When this reporter asked him if he really did not know, why did he approach the education minister to select those specific lands, Selim got enraged.

“Don’t try to muddy the waters. We are not getting fair price for the land, so we would not give the land to the government. That’s final,” was Selim’s reply.

Locals too scared to speak up about chairman

When this correspondent went to Lakshmipur union recently, no one of the locality wanted to speak up about chairman Selim on record.

Several residents of the union said Selim Khan has set up surveillance in the area after taking the people’s lands.

Prothom Alo talked to 11 sellers, of whom eight agreed to speak. But all of them talked on condition of anonymity.

One such owner said the chairman summoned the owners before filling the land and told them, “Give me your land or I will take it. People gave the land after getting such a threat. Some of the owners received money while some did not.”

Another person, whose land was taken forcibly, told Prothom Alo that he was told to be content with whatever sum of money he received or give that amount back.

Prothom Alo called education minister Dipu Moni several times for her comment on the issue of ‘land acquisition trade’ but she did not respond. Later, an email was sent to the ministry’s information officer Mohammad Abul Khair on 23 March seeking the minister’s comment. No reply was available as of Wednesday.

Asked again about the minister’s stance, the information officer told Prothom Alo Wednesday, “I informed the minister. She did not reply.”

Even Awami League leaders criticise

Many local Awami League leaders are criticising the ‘land acquisition trade’ by the persons close to the minister.

District AL president Nasir Uddin Ahmed at a meeting on Tuesday said a precarious site on the bank of the river has been selected for university without any consultation with them.

Education minister’s associates have purchased all the land to misappropriate huge sums of money, he added.

Meanwhile, a section of AL organised a press conference in Chandpur press club on Wednesday and alleged that false information is being spread against Dipu Moni and her family.

District AL’s vice president Md Yousuf Gazi said the tax office, land office, upazila office, ADC revenue office, land acquisition committee and above all the deputy commissioner are responsible for selecting the land for acquisition. The land for the university has been selected upon their suggestion.

Meanwhile, Chandpur-4 (Faridganj) lawmaker from Mohammad Shafiqur Rahman published a column on land acquisition on an online news portal on Tuesday.

He wrote that land acquisition trade worth Tk 5-6 billion was being carried out illegally centering the proposed university of Chandpur.

“As education minister’s power and her brothers and associates are involved with the trade, no one speaks up about it,” the ruling party lawmaker wrote.

Asked about the matter, MP Shafiqur Rahman told Prothom Alo, “I’ve written everything based on information.”

* This report, originally appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo, has been re-written in English by Shameem Reza and Galib Ashraf