Sonargaon Economic Zone grabs villagers' farmlands, Bangladesh

The legal challenge against land grabbing in six villages by an influential industrialist goes on.


Description

Unplanned and unauthorised creation of townships and the expansion of industries by few unscrupulous entrepreneurs by filling up farmlands and the low-lying marshy and wetlands is a major concern for urban development and environmental sustainability in the country . Taking advantage of the reluctance of the law implementing agencies and often in connivance with them, many of these land development activities are implemented by grabbing lands of others resulting in violation of fundamental rights and the minimum civic norms and environmental standards. Often, the acquired lands are way above the ceiling prescribed in laws.  

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Basic Data
NameSonargaon Economic Zone grabs villagers' farmlands, Bangladesh
CountryBangladesh
SiteDistrict of Narayanganj
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Urban development conflicts
Manufacturing activities
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsOne Unique Property Development Limited started implementing a land development project in agricultural lands, lowland areas and khals (canals) falling under moujas namely Pirojpur, Jainpur, Chhoehishya, Char Bhabanathpur, Bhatibanda and Ratanpur of Pirojpur Union of Sonargaon Upazilla.

It was first in 2009 that the Company purported to forcibly occupy around 377.3123 hectares of land of the six moujas to develop its unauthorised township called the “Sonargaon Resort City”. The area attempted to be grabbed by the Company for its Resort City included river banks, wetlands and agricultural lands, covering 11 IRRI schemes (special rice cultivation scheme) crucial for the livelihood of 12,000 farming families of 10 villages, and are adjacent to the River Meghna.

An inquiry report dated 30.07.09 prepared by the local land office recorded that the company was filling up RS dag numbers 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, 510, 511, 517, 518, 519, 647, 648, 628, 629, 630, 631 of Char Bhabanathpur mouza that are recorded as public lands. A letter of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, dated 21 December, 2011, revealed that the company already filled up through pilling 2,64, 600 square feet area of the Meghna river and its bank (2940 feet x 90 feet) between dag number 293 of Bhatibanda mouza and dag number 597 of Char Bhabanathpur mouza that clearly are parts of River Meghna.

These activities were adversely affecting the navigability of the river, shrinking its waterway and destroying its flood plain; increasing the tendency of erosion and sedimentation, and damaging fishery, agriculture and biodiversity. A report of the Surveyor, Upazilla Land Office, Sonargaon, Narayangonj dated 12 August, 2010 stated the misdeeds of the company in grabbing private and public lands and in putting the 11 IRRI schemes to halt. A letter dated 24 October, 2011 of Department of Environment stated that the Company has - a) commenced with implementation of its so-called Sonargaon Resort City without obtaining site clearance, and b) as per written statement of his official, unlawfully filled up 28.712 hectares of river bank adjacent low-lying lands, wetlands and agricultural lands with 2,47, 21,000 cubic feet sands in the two mouzas of Bhatibanda and Char Bhabanathpur. Such filling up of lands was recommended to be stopped to prevent change in land class and protecting local people’s access to natural resources, which otherwise would negatively affect agricultural production and severely damage environment and ecosystem.

Subsequently, to evade legal sanction against its Resort City, the company changed the name of its project and through its sister concern, started persuading public agencies to authorise setting up of a private economic zone over 121.405 hectors of its ‘own purchased lands’ in the same area where earth filling for the resort has been restrained by the High Court. In connivance with some public agencies, the company, however, obtained a pre-license dated 24 August, 2016 to develop a private economic zone initially over 22.2577 hectares of land to be raised to a minimum of 40.468 hectares before final license can be obtained.

The proposed economic zone envisaged to be set up over 1,30,68,826 square feet of area has targeted to utilise 8,98,404 square feet for industrial area, 25,000 square feet for administrative area, 72,125 square feet for commercial area, 1,94,249 square feet for service area, and another 2,428 square feet for open space. It has a target of creating employment for 50 thousand people in the pharmaceuticals, finished leather units, electric assembling unit, and textile units to be set up the zone.

A legal battle is now on against both proposed projects of the company.
Project Area (in hectares)145.687 Hectares
Level of Investment (in USD)2,200,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population12,000 farming families
Start Date20/07/2009
Company Names or State EnterprisesUnique Property Development Limited from Bangladesh
Unique Hotels and Resorts Limited from Bangladesh
Sonargaon Economic Zone Limited from Bangladesh
Relevant government actorsMinistries of Housing and Public Works, Land, Environment and Forest,

Home; Director General, Director (Monitoring and Enforcement), and Deputy Director (Naraynagonj), Department of Environment; Deputy Commissioner, Narayangonj; Upazilla Nirbahi Officer, Assistant Commissioner (Land), Sonargaon Upazilla, Narayangonj.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)

www.belabangla.org
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
OtherFilling up of fertile agricultural lands with earth for the so-called economic zone has led to less production of crops adversely affecting the farmers. Due to filling up of wetlands, fish stock has also disappeared and the ecology of the entire area is under stake. If the economic zone is ultimately allowed to be set up, industries from the zone may pollute the nearby river Meghna, that is supposed to be supplying potable water for the City.
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Other Health impacts
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
OtherSince there is no production from the lands forcibly covered with earth for the last few years, farmers unwilling to sell their lands are mentally devastated. Due to non-production of crops, vegetables and fish, food intake has significantly gone down. As there is no sell of locally produced crops, food purchasing capacity of the affecting families has also been reduced.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
OtherThe proponent of the economic zone is influential, politically and economically. Due to his connections with the political high-ups, the affected farming communities are not getting any redress against forced grabbing of their lands. It is believed that various repressive tactics have also been adopted by the proponent and the local administration to intimidate local people, who believe that two murders committed in the area were connected with the setting up of the Economic Zone. It is believed that due to the money power of the proponent, local administration is deliberately not implementing the Court Order that has required removal of dumped earth.
Outcome
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Deaths
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Compensation for the affected farmers have been sought but has not yet been directed (either by the judiciary or the executive) to be paid.
It is believed that various repressive tactics have also been adopted by the proponent and the local administration to intimidate local people, who believe that two murders committed in the area were connected with the setting up of the Economic Zone.
Development of AlternativesThe local farmers organised themselves and started submitting memos to local administrative agencies. The local land office investigated and found that allegation of the local people about their land grabbing and encroachment of Meghna river were correct. Responding to the call of the local people, the Department of Environment slapped and realised a fine of take 59,655 US$ on the company for filling up agricultural lands, flood plains, rivers for its unauthorised project. The company was also directed to remove the sands already dumped from farmers’ lands.

Since the company didn’t fully remove the sands dumped and re-started its project in 2013, a Writ Petition No. 1683 of 2014 was filed to protect the agricultural lands, low lands, parts of the Meghna River and water body in Pirojpur, Jainpur, Chhoehishya, Char Bhabanathpur, Bhatibanda and Ratanpur mouzas from contrary use and illegal earth filling. The petition also sought directions upon the company and responsible public agencies to remove the sand/earth filled up for the so-called Sonargaon Resort City and to restore the lands to their original position and to assess the damage caused to the villagers by earth-filling already done.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Although the Court, on several occasions, has directed the proponent of the Economic Zone to remove all earth dumped, a delaying tactic has been adopted by the proponent and the local administration is giving wrong reports before the Court saying no fresh earth filling has been done. Although the same has been contradicted by strong evidence, earth is yet to be removed and the orders of the Court against earth filling have been repeatedly violated. Some local farmers being deprived of justice and income are selling plots under compulsion.
Sources and Materials
Legislations

Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 (Act No. I of 1995)
[click to view]

Environment Conservation Rules, 1997 made thereunder; the Bangladesh Land Holding Limitation Order, 1972, and the Land Reforms Ordinance, 1984.
[click to view]

Bangladesh Economic Zones Act, 2010
[click to view]

Bangladesh Private Economic Zones Policy, 2015
[click to view]

Links

The Daily Bonik Barta News, from 2018-09-04. (accessed online 19.12.2018)
[click to view]

The Daily Star, 16 January 2017 "Dumping sand on farmland" (accessed online 19.12.2018).
[click to view]

Other Documents

Picture Unique Properties, Narayanganj
[click to view]

Picture Unique Properties, Narayanganj
[click to view]

Salica Sand Moulvibazar Judgement Salica Sand Moulvibazar WP 2948 of 2016 (3 July 2018)
[click to view]

economic zone signboard Photo credit and source: The daily star. https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/dumping-sand-farmland-1345942
[click to view]

sand dredging on farmland Photo credit: The daily star, Tawfique Ali. Source: https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/dumping-sand-farmland-1345942
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorSyeda Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), [email protected]
Last update19/12/2018
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