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Sonargaon Economic Zone grabs villagers' farmlands, Bangladesh

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


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
Name of conflict:Sonargaon Economic Zone grabs villagers' farmlands, Bangladesh
Location of conflict:District 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 commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

One 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.

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Project area:145.687 Hectares
Level of Investment:2,200,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:12,000 farming families
Start of the conflict:20/07/2009
Company names or state enterprises:Unique Property Development Limited from Bangladesh
Unique Hotels and Resorts Limited from Bangladesh
Sonargaon Economic Zone Limited from Bangladesh
Relevant government actors:Ministries 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement 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
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
Other Environmental impactsFilling 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
Other Health impactsSince 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-economical 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
Other socio-economic impactsThe 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.
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
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 alternatives:The 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Bangladesh Economic Zones Act, 2010
[click to view]

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

Bangladesh Private Economic Zones Policy, 2015
[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]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

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

Meta information
Contributor:Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), [email protected]
Last update19/12/2018
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