Kamal Ahmed Majumdar, lawmaker of the Dhaka-15 constituency, has initiated a special system of trial in the name of arbitration, outside of the existing laws. He has formed a five-member committee which holds hearings every Saturday. This so-called court has been named as Social Justice Committee.
In response to written complaints, the accused person is ordered to appear in the 'court'. They are warned that a one-sided verdict will be pronounced if they fail to show up. They are also coerced into accepting whatever verdict is given.
The police are uncomfortable about this matter. They have received several complaints about this arbitration court. On the other hand, Kamal Majumdar accused the police of speaking against the committee as it has curtailed their opportunity for bribes and corruption.
The committee office has been set up at Mohona, the Pallabi office of the lawmaker. The local people call it a 'court'. The committee members claim to have settled 250 complaints since 2009.
Asked whether setting up of such a court is function of a lawmaker, legal expert Shahdeen Malik says, according to the Constitution and the existing laws of the country, a parliamentarian does not have any judicial or executive power. They can settle an argument between two sides in a family or social dispute, but they cannot issue notices to summon people, force them to accept their verdict.
Kamal Majumdar MP says, "When two sides get involved in a dispute in my locality, as the local MP I cannot just sit and watch the fun. I have the ability to settle disputes in my area and I do that."
I arrived at Kamal Majumdar's office Mohona on 19 July to watch the Social Justice Committee's proceedings. The trials were being held in the 'political office' of the lawmaker. Around twenty people were sitting there, documents in hand. They were given notices, summoning them to the trial.
Two of the five-member committee hadn't arrived as yet. Three of them were sitting there. One came forward to ask what the nature of my complaint was and if I had the recommendation of the MP. When they heard I was a journalist, a personal aide of Kamal Majumdar came up. Two of the committee members then spoke to Prothom Alo.
They said that the committee began functioning in 2009 with seven members. That committee was dissolved in 2013. In 2014 a new committee of five members was formed with the MP's close associate Abdul Wahab as convenor. The other four are, Abul Khair Bhuiyan, Vice President of the proposed Mirpur thana Awami League committee and former government servant; Abdul Ali Chowdhury, Kafrul thana Awami League leader; Awami League leader Sirajuddin Ahmed; and Abdul Gafur, Joint General Secretary of Kafrul thana Awami League.
While the committee was talking to Prothom Alo, a middle-aged woman was sitting in front of them. They gave her a stamped paper worth TK 500 and told her to sign on it. Committee member Abdul Khair Bhuiyan explained, "She had some problems with Swarnali Housing and now the two sides have reached an understanding." He pointed to another man, "He's the company's MD." He told the man to sign too. The man signed the document, displeasure etched clearly on his face.
When asked what the dispute was about, Abdul Khair merely said, "That's a long story, brother. You need not hear it. It's being carried on for a long time, just look at this fat file. All the proceedings are here, just like a court." The housing company MD refrained from comment.
What sort of trials were held at this court? Committee member Abdul Wahab cut in, "Why are you calling this a court? It is an arbitration committee. We don't deal with any criminal cases. We have hearings over disputes concerning land or apartments. We settle civil disputes. We give our verdict, but we don't compel anyone."
An officer of the Mirpur police, however, says, "This committee has no legal standing. They are playing the role of a court. They issue notices to summon people. They pass verdicts according to their whims."
A police officer of Mirpur police station says that the committee had issued orders to demolish the boundary wall of the Mukti Housing residence of ABM Barek, former director of Mirpur Botanical Gardens. He complained to the police and his property was saved through police intervention.
Kamal Majumdar says, "The police are spreading these stories about me because the Social Justice Committee has lessened their scope to make money." He says 90 percent of the people are happy with the committee.
However, several people have lodged complaints with the police against this committee. Mirpur police officer-in-charge (OC) Salauddin and Pallabi police OC Syed Ziauzzaman confirm that such complaints have been received.