General secretary of Jashore district unit Awami League and sadar upazila chairman Shaheen Chaklader and his cronies have spread a reign of terror in Jashore.
Detailed investigations by Prothom Alo found that Shaheen and his followers were involved in land grabbing, extortion, smuggling of arms, gold and drugs, gambling, and even killing of their political rivals. But people fear to even talk about his illegal activities openly as his family has a firm grip on Jashore’s politics and business.
Shaheen has allegedly grabbed land of an old cinema hall in the city’s Chitra Morh and constructed a 17-storey building there.
The land where the highest building of the city now stands, was grabbed by Shaheen’s cadre Asaduzzaman alias Buno Asad. Shaheen assured him of a share in the land. But he did not get his share once the land was grabbed.
Prothom Alo talked with Asad in Jashore’s Bezpara area on 18 March. According to him, a school teacher Anwara Begum, along others, was the owners of the land. Anwara sought Shaheen’s assistance to settle the dispute with other shareholders of the land. But instead of settling the issue, Shaheen took the chance to occupy the land. He spent a mere Tk 900,000 to gain possession of the land worth millions of taka.
Asad grabbed the land with help of his cadres but was only given the money from the selling the cinema hall’s paraphernalia.
Asad also claimed to grab a 99-decimal plot of land in Ghurulia village of Jashore for Shaheen Chaklader.
Anwara Begum now lives in a dilapidated two-storey building adjoining the multi-storeyed building. While asked on 19 March about her land, Anwara looked too scared to talk about.
“I am not able to talk about this, forgive me,” a visibly frightened Anwara told this reporter.
Shaheen Chaklader said that the cinema hall was beset with debt. He maintained that he had bought the land at a proper price. But Shaheen could not give any satisfactory answer as to why Anwara fears to speak on the matter if the land was bought properly.
Everyone knows of Chaklader family’s muscle power, but few dare to speak of the matter openly.
But a few do speak, apparently due to divide within the ruling party. Mohit Kumar Nath, president of Jashore sadar upazila AL told Prothom Alo, “The Chaklader family effectively controls everything in Jashore, but no one dares to speak against them in fear of their lives. Everyone fears them.”
Locals said, Shaheen used to sit in a pharmacy owned by his family in the late 1990s. But his fortune changed dramatically after 2009. Apart from that 17-storey building, he is constructing another three-storey building in Kathaltala area of Jashore. He also owns two houses in Kalabagan and DOHS area of the capital city Dhaka. Along with two boulder crushing grounds, he has large investments in the transport business owned by his family.
Shaheen Chaklader claimed that he has made his fortune through his family business. Asked about what kind of business their family runs, he said, "What don’t we run! We have a wide range of businesses including boulders, oil, a pharmacy and a transport business."
Chaklader family’s influence
Shaheen Chaklader became general secretary of district unit AL in 2004. He was elected as Jashore sadar upazila chairman five years later in 2009 and was re-elected again in 2014.
Around 13 years ago, Shaheen Chaklader was the lone family member active in politics. But now many others have become active politicians, due to his influence. His elder brother Abdus Salam Chaklader is president of Jashore bus owners' association. Cousin Zahirul Islam Chaklader alias Rentu Chaklader is Jashore municipality’s chairman and district Juba League’s secretary. Another cousin Towhid Chaklader alias Fontu Chaklader is a member of district Juba League. Fontu Chaklader’s elder brother Abdul Hamid Chaklader alias Edul Chaklader is district unit vice president of Bangladesh Chemist and Druggist Samity. Zila Parishad chairman Saifuzzaman is a member of their clan too. Though not involved with politics directly, Shaheen Chaklader’s brother Shamim Chaklader controls the local construction business.
Many local politicians seeking anonymity told Prothom Alo that Shaheen Chaklader has given posts to his family members to wield influence in local politics. He himself spends time with central leaders while his cousin Fontu takes care of the local politics. Fontu, owner of a mobile phone shop just ten years ago, has now amassed huge fortune for himself.
Prothom Alo investigations reveal that, land grabbers mainly eye government-owned land and disputed private land. Fontu Chaklader, ward councillor of Jashore municipality, Haji Alamgir alias Haji Suman and chairman of Arabpur union parishad and organising secretary of sadar upazila AL Shaharul Islam are leading the land grabbing activities.
Fontu Chaklader allegedly usurped a 3-bigha piece of land owned by a businessman of Jamtala area of Jashore. He set up a tiles factory there. Visiting the spot on 21 March, the land was found to be enclosed by walls with an ‘entry restricted’ sign on the main gate.
Owner of the land Abdun Nur lives in Khulna. He told Prothom Alo that Fontu’s men grabbed the land forcefully. But Fontu claims to have bought the land from Nur’s brother.
Not only private land, Fontu allegedly appropriated government property too. He constructed five shops on a piece of land owned by the zila parishad in Nilganj area of Jashore. He rented out the shops to some businessmen taking big amounts of security money from them. Fontu claimed he has taken the land as lease from the zila parishad authorities but the zila parishad chairman said they did not lease the land to anyone.
Another follower of Shaheen Chaklader, Haji Suman, is constructing 53 shops in Chachra Bazar area of Jashore, grabbing the zila parishad’s land. As of 20 March, construction work of most of the shops was finished. Businessmen have already rented shops from Haji Suman.
Suman claimed that he constructed the shops after leasing the land from the zila parishad. But the zila parishad chairman Saifuzzaman said the land was occupied earlier by some quarter. Suman has constructed the shops there to establish the occupation of zila parishad as per his directive.
Asked about why Suman is supervising the land if it is owned the zila parishad, Saifuzzaman got irritated. He asked, “Who asked you to be a journalist? Is everything done in this country following proper procedures?”
Apart from government-owned land, Suman is also involved in grabbing private properties. A 17-decimal plot of land in Bholar Tank area of Jashore town and another of 43 decimals in Mikepatti area had reportedly been grabbed by Suman.
Saber Ali, co-owner of the land in Bholar Tank said, the land was owned by three partners. Suman bought some 5 decimals at a low price from one of the owners but his men took possession of rest of 12 decimals, and evicted other two owners forcefully.
Haji Suman maintained that he had bought the land at a fair price and denied the allegation about land in Mikepatti area.
Another 100 bighas of land was allegedly grabbed by Arabpur union parishad chairman Shaharul Islam. On 17 May last year, more than 100 farmers of the area protested the grabbing in a press conference held in Jashore press club.
A piece of land designated for AL office was also grabbed by Shaheen’s man. The government designated the site for an AL office in Doratana area of Jashore. While there was no permission to build any other construction there, a hotel named ‘Rajdhani Hotel’ is found at the site. Zila parishad chairman Saifuzzaman declined to comment on the issue. Shaheen Chaklader was reportedly permitted to construct the hotel. Shaheen claimed he does not know anything about the land.
Owner of Rajdhani Hotel Harun-or-Rashid, however, told Prothom Alo that he has set up the hotel as per permission of Shaheen Chaklader.
This reporter talked with Shaheen Chaklader on 21 March about allegations against him. He binned all the allegations and maintained that everything is fine in Jashore and people are living in peace.
Shaheen got irritated in the face of specific allegations against him. He also indirectly threatened to file cases against the reporter.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf.