2 months ago

Freeing railway lands from grabbers

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The High Court's directive to the concerned bodies of the government to prepare a list of the persons illegally occupying railway lands in the country and submit the same to the court within 30 days sounds loud and clear to bring to book the grabbers who have been merrily feasting on public property for decades. This brings to mind the occasional isolated drives by the law enforcers to free railway lands from illegal possessions, most of which did not succeed for reasons not difficult to discern. Absence of strong political will, to put it bluntly, is often believed to be instrumental in leaving things as they are with very little or no progress in getting the occupied land freed.

Given the futile attempts in the past, the very recent move by the country's highest court appears to be well thought out because an authentic list of the grabbers will in all likelihood provide a valid ground to go for action. The HC passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by rights organisation Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB). In the hearing, the lawyer on behalf of HRPB, referring to a writ petition in 2016 seeking HC directives to evict illegal occupants of the railway lands in Narayanganj, said that following the writ, series of reports came out in the media about thousands of acres of land under illegal possession in different districts. So, to stop the criminality and recover these lands, intervention of the court is a crucial need. Seeking the highest court's intervention is indeed the last ditch effort to bring an end to the culture of impunity when it comes to grabbing fallow government lands, canals, hillocks, even rivers. As regards the railway lands, scattered all over the country with lax overseeing as often alleged, the grabbers find them highly alluring as these lands are mostly ready to use.      

How much of the railway lands are under occupation of grabbers is not known for certain. The railways minister while replying to a question in parliament informed that 3,213 acres of railway land are under occupation of individuals, private, semi-government, autonomous, religious and educational institutions. Of the illegally occupied lands, the highest 620 acres are in Rajshahi district, 321 acres in Rajbari, 282 acres in Sirajganj, 280 acres in Bagerhat, 210 acres in Kurigram, 183 acres in Chattogram, 154 acres in Faridpur, 143 acres in Pabna, 128 acres in Gaibandha, 113 acres in Nilphamari, 106 acres in Lalmonirhat, 103 in Jhenaidah and 56 acres in Kushtia. According to the railway sources, between July 2015 and June 2020, 632 eviction drives were conducted in Dhaka, Chattogram, Paksey and Lalmonirhat when more than a thousand acres of land were recovered and 1,28,655 illegal structures demolished. However, newspaper reports say many of these illegal structures were re-built soon after the eviction drives.

Now that the HC has instructed for preparation of a comprehensive list of the grabbers-the number one instrument for launching an eviction drive, one can hope to see a change in the narrative of recovery attempts and establishment of the Railway's rightful ownership.


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