A little contribution goes a long way

People in Sylhet city have donated their lands for widening the streets
Anis Mahmud

There have been innumerous incidents from fighting to bloodshed due to land disputes. Families turn into enemies, different conspiracies are spun while a game of foul moves continues. And there are countless examples of land-dispute cases and lawsuits being stretched for years. Nobody wants to spare even an inch of land for free. But, under such realities the other side of the coin can be found as well.

In Sylhet city, without any sort of pressure people are voluntarily donating lands from the yards of their homes. Some have donated land from in front of the main entrance of the house, while some others have donated land by breaking off their boundary walls. They have donated their lands to the city corporation for the purpose of widening narrow roads and drains in the city. Such kindness and donation from the city dwellers have led to wider roads and as well as a well-arranged city.

Not just a handful of people, almost 13,000 residents have voluntarily donated their lands. The amount of land local residents have donated in the past 10 years amounts to an approximate cost worth of Tk 120 billion (12,000 crore). The city corporation authorities have taken an initiative to recognise such extraordinary donations made by their residents. Each of those 13,000 residents are receiving certificate of commendation from the city corporation.

Mentioning that an initiative like this is a huge example for the whole country, Sylhet’s Leading University exam controller, poet and researcher Mostak Ahmad Deen told Prothom Alo that the city corporation authorities were able to expand the roads only because of the voluntary donation of land by city residents.

It’s a praiseworthy initiative and has made movements easier for the city dwellers. This will be a precedent in future. Besides, the certificate that the city corporation is now giving to all the land donors now, will also encourage others in the city to donate their lands in future, he added.

Md Lulu Mia of Kadamtali area stands on the land he donated for the street.
Prothom Alo

Backstory of the initiative

Even a decade back, the roads in Sylhet city were narrow and slender. In the rough course of urbanisation, the number of vehicles went up just as the traffic congestion had also increased. Right then, the city corporation came forward to resolve the issue and took an initiative to widen the roads as well as the drains.

But the problem was that neither the city corporation nor the government owned any land on the side of those narrow roads. Most of the lands on either side of those roads were privately owned. So, there were no other options but to buy the roadside lands for widening the roads. But the city corporation authorities did not have plenty of money to buy those lands.

Meanwhile, people’s sufferings caused by the unbearable traffic congestion on narrower roads seem to have no end. In the end, former Sylhet city mayor Ariful Haque Choudhury appealed to the city residents in different rallies and gatherings, asking them to donate lands. Whenever, a road needed more width, he along with the councilors used to visit the area concerned and make requests to the residents.

Regarding the incident of lands being donated for free, ex-city mayor Ariful Haque Choudhury told Prothom Alo, “Rising above their party-affiliation and imbued views, citizens have given up their lands worth billions of taka for free, in the name of development. This rare example set by them will be remembered gratefully in Sylhet City Corporation’s journey moving forward.”

There are many examples of prominent figures giving up their properties for the cause of widening the streets in Sylhet. Former finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and his brother current foreign minister AK Abdul Momen had given away some lands from their ancestral home. Regarding this, Prothom Alo had published a report titled ‘Foreign minister’s family give away land for road in Sylhet’ on 29 January, 2019.

Some have donated lands demolishing their buildings. Photo taken in Kalibari area of Sylhet city.
Prothom Alo

Donated lands worth billions of taka

According to the city corporation authorities, currently there are a total of 42 wards including the 15 extended ones under the city corporation. But the road extension activities have been carried out only in the 27 previously existing wards. The road extension work began after Ariful Haque became the mayor for the first time in 2013. 

People have donated lands starting from two to maximum five feet in smaller communities. So far, about 13,500 residents of the city have willingly given away their land. A total of 200 roads and drains have been widened by making use of those lands. The approximate price of those lands and the buildings there were on those lands is Tk 120 billion (12,000 crore).

Chief engineer at Sylhet City Corporation, Nur Azizur Rahman told Prothom Alo that land donation on both sides has led to many roads becoming almost twice as wide as before. The matter of giving away lands bears proof of Sylhet city residents’ enormous generosity.

An afternoon in the area

Travelling on the street stretched from Kalibari to Haoldarpara area in the city around 3:00pm on 27 September, 10-12 labourers were found working to widen the drain on the left side of the road leading towards Haoldarpara. The work was going on for about half a kilometer area on the road. Everyone in the area has donated lands in public interest.

The roads have become wider than before. Photo taken recently at Zindabazar area of Zindabazar-Chouhatta-Ambarkhana road.
Prothom Alo

Different establishments including the main entrance of someone’s house, boundary walls or parts of their living quarters had to be demolished for this.

Sabyasachi Dutta is one of the owners of House No 5 of Shoujbagicha Block-B on Kalibari-Haoldarpara Road. He is an assistant professor at the mathematics department of Sylhet Government College.

Sabyasachi said that the work of expanding the drain started a month ago. They have given away three feet of land for this work in public interest. The estimated value of the donated land is about several hundred thousand of taka. Earlier, they had donated a foot of land for the expansion of the road also.

Many of the city residents have appreciated such a unique initiative from the city corporation to widen the roads and drains. Families that aren’t so affluent have also given away their lands. It would have been better if the city corporation authorities paid the price for their lands. But in most cases the owners have donated their lands spontaneously.

Jyotsna Rani Dev (70), a resident of Karerpara area, gave away 3 feet of land from her house. She said that the roads in their area were expanded about five to six months ago. All the residents on either sides of the road have donated three feet of land. So, the road has been widened by 6 feet. Like others, she has donated the land for free in public interest.

The roads in Sylhet city have become much wider than before while the traffic congestion has reduced as well, said Faruk Mahmud Chowdhury, president of Shushanoer Jonno Nagorik (Sujan) in Sylhet.

He told Prothom Alo, “It has only been possible because many of the city residents have collectively donated their lands. Our gratitude, respect and love to those who have donated their lands to set an example of easing the movement of the city dwellers.”