A corrupt compensation process has marred the country’s first deep-sea port project, which is scheduled to be functional by 2021. This is the last of a two-part series exploring one of Bangladesh’s biggest construction endeavours
When the residents of Kalapara upazila in Patuakhali lost their land to the construction of the Payra Deep-sea Port in Rabnabad channel, their support for the project did not dissipate.
However, their support soon turned to despair and disappointment when the district administration did not compensate them for their land.
According to locals, none of the deprived people are getting the total sum of their compensation without paying 6-10% of it in advance, as bribes, to the Land Acquisition branch of the district administration. Even with the bribes, the compensation is being paid in instalments.
Bribes must also be paid to the branch to complete other kinds of activities, such as the collection of land revenue receipts.
Another set of people—brokers or middlemen—take advantage of illiterate locals by taking large sums of money from them with the promise of looking after their affairs. The money is later used to cut deals with the district administration.
Meanwhile, due to the acquisition, a significant number of the landowners have halted crop production for indefinite periods of time.
A corrupt system
Abdul Halim Peda, 60, from Banatipara mouza, said: “I received Tk1,300,000 in compensation. However, I could only collect the sum after paying 6% of my total compensation at the Patuakhali deputy commissioner (DC)’s office. Every time I go to the office, the officials keep harassing me for bribes.
“I am a farmer, I only managed to get money for bribes by taking loans,” Halim lamented. “Now I cannot pay any more bribes; consequently, they are not paying the money I am due for my farmland.”
The sentiment was echoed by Razzak Talukdar from Lalua mouza. “Whenever I come to the DC’s office, the officers harass me for bribes worth 7-8% of the total compensation money. Those who can bribe have their files on top, and those who cannot, have their files thrown in the back.”
“We wanted the construction of the Payra deep-sea port,” said Belal Hossain Gazi, 48. “We do not have regrets over the acquisition of our lands, but this harassment over collecting our compensation is making us suffer.”
Belal, too, had to pay an advance of 7-8% to get his compensation. “Until now, I have received Tk500,000, after repeatedly bribing the officers. This is unfair; why should we pay advance money to the Land Acquisition branch to get what we are owed?”
With the increase in the price of nearby land due to the construction of the port, the displaced locals cannot even buy the surrounding land to grow crops, and are forced to spend the whole sum of the compensation on day-to-day expenditures.
Abdul Haque Mridha, 42, from Noakata mouza, said: “When the prime minister came to visit Kalapara, she instructed the administration to pay us thrice the market value of our acquired lands, but the government is only paying 1.5 times the value.
“With the amount that I get as compensation from 30 decimals of land, buying even four decimals of the surrounding lands has become impossible for me,” Mridha said. “Furthermore, 10% of my compensation goes to bribes. We are becoming homeless.”
The locals’ claims were backed by Patuakhali 4 MP Md Mohibur Rahman, who called the Patuakhali DC’s office a “den of corruption.”
“A certain group of government officials and corrupt individuals have created a syndicate to extort money from the displaced locals,” Mohibur said. “The individuals lodge false complaints against the compensation recipients, upon which the government officers ask the recipients to show up at the office.
“In this manner, this group is actually extorting money from the victims under the pretext of settling matters,” he said. “We have already brought the matter to the administration’s notice.”
To free Patuakhali of corruption, the payment of the compensation should be regulated by Kalapara upazila instead of the Patuakhali DC’s office, the MP said.
Meanwhile, Patuakhali Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) (revenue) Mamunur Rashid denied accusations of receiving bribes, and said that the compensation money is being paid in instalments.
“We are paying the money through cheques, distributing them through the affiliated union parishads,” he said. “To reduce the locals’ suffering, we are even going door-to-door to hand out the cheques.”
The ADC said if anyone contacts the DC’s office directly, without taking help from any middlemen or brokers, they will receive their dues without facing harassment.
When contacted, Chairman of Payra Port Authority Commodore M Jahangir Alam said: “The rehabilitation process will be completed by the middle or end of next year.”
“We have received a large sum in advance from the government and transferred it to the deputy commissioner. Since we have acquired a huge chunk of land for the construction, the deputy commissioner’s office is doing its best to manage the enormous task of compensation as smoothly as possible. I believe they have no deficiencies in undertaking their duties,” he said.
“We have found out that some locals have been filling false cases, claiming ownership of other people’s land to take their compensation. In such cases, the DC’s office has nothing to do since it cannot disburse money without the cases being settled in courts first,” Commodore Jahangir said.
More than 1,700 families displaced
According to district administration sources, Payra Deep-sea port authorities wanted a total 6,000 acres of land for the construction of the project.
From December 2016 to February 4 of the current year, 2,372.79 acres of land have been acquired, while work to acquire the rest of the land continues.
The acquisition has displaced 1,743 families from nine mouzas in five unions in Kalapara upazila.
As compensation, the displaced locals have been allotted a total of Tk6,119,719,000, to be paid in two instalments. The port authorities have estimated they will raise a sum of Tk5,538,617,180 from the project to pay for the compensation.
However, until now, only Tk1,829,558,293 has been paid; the district administration is yet to pay the remaining Tk3,703,658,887.14.
The district administration has acquired: 58 acres of Itbaria and Rajpara mouza to construct the four-lane multipurpose terminal, 33 acres of Itbaria mouza for the truck terminal, 1,818 acres of Noakata, Lalua, and Banatipara mouzas for the main infrastructure—and 464.11 acres of: Lalua, Itbaria, Dhulashar, Chandupara (south), Chandupara (north), and Lepupara mouzas—for rehabilitation and handed them over to Payra port authorities.