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Single-point mooring at Maheshkhali

100 families in fear of eviction, 300 already displaced from homestead

KAMRUN NAHAR | December 03, 2019 00:00:00


Some 50 residents of Sonapara village were waiting for the visiting journalists at the project site since morning. They wanted to tell their stories of sufferings and grievances to the government through the writings. Two journalists, one local and another from a Dhaka-based newspaper, reached the 'Installation of Single-Point Mooring with Double Pipeline' project site at Sonapara of Kalarmarchhara union of Maheshkhali where over 300 families were evicted from their homestead while another 100 families were in fear of eviction.

The government has been constructing a 58 feet road and a 48 feet pipeline as part of the project.

"We have been living here on this khas land for the past 90 years. We have been evicted from our homes without notice and no compensation was given as they said we are illegally occupying government's land," said 80 years old Saleh Ahmed.

Among the 300 families, only 60 families have registered land and the rest have been living there for generation after generation. The registered families got Tk 21,000 in compensation for each decimal of land. But inhabitants like Saleh Ahmed got merely Tk 50,000.

"They have acquired 560 decimals of land where I used to produce rice and betel leaf. I had an annual income of Tk 0.2 million from rice. I have no livelihood now as they have driven me away from my land saying it was khas land," he said.

Mr Saleh has nine sons and two daughters. The whole family was asked to move to the temporary shelter (Ashroyon) project. The authorities offered him one-third of the compensation money and demolished his house without any prior notice.

Setara and her seven other sisters had five decimals of registered land where they have been living in tin sheds and running two roadside shops. Now the road has been constructed at such a level that their houses are now lying low and submerged in even a small splash of rain.

"Our father gave this land to us -- eight of his daughters, and we have been living for about 60 years. We have no other property. I cannot live at my home now as rainwater submerges my home and I go to other places at night due to rain," she said.

She alleged that the authority did not pay them the actual price of the land showing the land as low-lying. They are offering three times the price of the land but in reality they will not give even this amount, she added.

"They came along with the police to demolish our houses. But the local representative said to us that he will give us rooms at the Ashroyon project and we will shift after we get our rooms," she said.

Another registered land owner Nur Mohammed has 800 decimals of land where he and his five other brothers used to produce rice, betel leaves, vegetables and raise cattle.

"I had a room measuring 20 feet by 30 feet. But suddenly they demolished my home and now I live in the cattle shed," said Mr Mohammed.

The authorities came here several times to evict them. But Mr Mohammed applied to the office of the deputy commissioner (DC) for revision of the compensation amount following the rules of the government. But he never received any answer.

His wife was serving various snacks while his younger brother also approached the reporters to talk. They said the land price was quite low and the price of land was shown at Tk 0.7 million. In reality, the market rate was 50-60 times higher.

The project is being implemented on 191 out of 18,000 acres of a reserve forest on Moheshkhali Island. The estimated cost of the Tk 54.26 billion project is expected to rise further.

The authorities have already cut hills and forests.

A Chinese firm will implement the project as an EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contractor at $550.40 million, excluding VAT and other duties, in the next 36 months.

A 220-kilometre pipeline would be installed in the Bay of Bengal to directly carry crude petroleum from deep-sea vessels to the Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL), the lone public-sector refinery.

Under this project, there will be a floating terminal near Patenga, one oil tank with a capacity of 0.24 million tonnes and three diesel tanks of crude oil at Kalarmarchhara along with other components.

The Indian firm Engineer's India Limited has conducted the environmental impact assessment (EIA) in collaboration with Bangladeshi firm EQMS Consulting Limited. But no EIA report was made public in connection with the impact on environment and society due to this red category project in violation of the environmental laws and the Right to Information Act.

It was known from the villagers of Sonapara that bird species like Dahuk, Crane (Bok), Baroi, monkeys, chimpanzees, jackals, deer and many other animals disappeared after the forest and hills were cut for the project.

When asked, development activist Asgar Ali Sabri told the FE that human rights concerning any business issue were enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011 to monitor whether human rights are violated due to any investment.

Mr Sabri also said that Bangladesh had been trying to achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 with three main pillars on the economic, social and environmental fronts.

"We have to be careful about the Goal Seven on access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy crucial for achieving SDG targets of poverty eradication via advancements in health, education, water supply and industrialisation to mitigating climate change," he said.

"At the same time, Bangladesh should be more aware that achievement of SDG 17 may get affected by the aggressive efforts to achieve SDG Seven," Mr Sabri added.

When asked why the forest was cut without proper resettlement arrangements and payment of compensation, forest range official Shamsul Haque said that the instruction came from the top.

Tareq Bin Osman Sharif, chairman of Kalarmarchhara union, told the FE that the poor people who were displaced from their homestead must be compensated first by Petrobangla and then be evicted. The DC office is also aware of the issue and so they can take necessary steps, the chairman expressed his hope.

Regarding the Ashroyon projects for rehabilitation of the affected people, Mr Sharif said that two rehabilitation projects were being implemented at Fakir Joompara and Kalarmarchhara. Another two are proposed. There would be high-rises and each family would get three rooms in the projects, he added.

In the meantime about 147 families have been sent to two temporary shelter projects where one family lives in a tiny room. There are three tubewells for 200 people. Young people do not live in the tin sheds due to hot weather. There is no electricity connection at the camps.

Setara has submitted an application to raise the compensation amount up to Tk 0.2 million with the recommendation from the chairman. She said she and her sisters would first get in hand the same amount and then they would decide to move from their shabby houses to a temporary camp.

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