Recipients having to pay 10-20% as bribes to get land acquisition compensation
Like the old saying “you cannot have an omelette unless you break the egg,” thousands of poor families in Madaripur gave up their lands for the sake of a bridge over Padma River, hoping that their lives will change forever.
But, these families – many of whom have lost a lot to the infamous gluttony of the river’s erosion – who gave up their meagre belongings to the government for a greater good, are having to pay too high a price now.
When the government decided to acquire their lands, there were pledges for fitting monetary compensations depending on the size of land each had to give up.
The government’s policymaking mechanism did its part by allocating and releasing the fund for the compensation, but some of the lower level local state employees are literally robbing these poor families while disbursing the money.
The government has already taken over more than 50% of the locals’ lands in several upazilas in Madaripur which were marked for acquisition to build an approach road and a river training embankment.
At least 6,102 affected families in the area have got over Tk300 crore as compensation for the lands they had given up for the bridge.
But most have alleged that they had to pay 10-15% of the receivables as bribe to the local government employees. Those who have failed or refused to pay the bribe, have not got their compensation and are having to face harassment.
Dhaka Tribune’s reporter talked to around 50 families from the Bakhorerkandi and South Charjanajat villages under the Shibchar upazila in the district. All of them said they had to pay bribe to get the compensation.
Kawsar Sarkar from South Charjanajat told the Dhaka Tribune: “The government allocated Tk19 lakh for acquiring my land. When I went to the DC [deputy commissioner] office, Mohiuddin [surveyor of the LA section] refused to give me the money unless I gave him 10%. Eventually, Tk7 lakh was deducted from my amount saying it was a government fee.”
Salim Bepari, resident of the Madbarchar Union, said the government owed him two separate bills for acquiring his land – one for his homestead and another for his farm.
“I was supposed to get Tk3.8 lakh for the land of my homestead. I had to go to the DC office 15-20 times to get the money. In the end I got the compensation, but not before paying Tk60,000 in cash to Mohiuddin,” he said.
He also alleged that Mohiuddin had allocated the land of his farm to a rich neighbour in exchange of bribe. When Salim protested, Mohiuddin threatened to get him arrested. After that, Salim has not gone back there again fearing arrest.
To get compensation, a claimant needs to produce several documents including updated papers from the local land office, citizenship and succession certificates attested by UP chairmen, and no-objection affidavits from all co-owners.
Beauty, a resident of South Charjanajat, said: “My father died 19 years ago. We built our homestead 15 years ago. We have not yet got our bill because we could not pay the bribe. We are now helpless. Where will we go if we are evicted from here and do not have any money?”
Ripon Mia from the same village said: “Those who have managed the hefty bribe, got their bills. I am a day labourer. I earn Tk200 per day. Where will I get the money to pay the bribe?”
Momtaz Begum has been coming and going to the DC office for months. The Dhaka Tribune reporter met her in front of the DC office.
“The government has taken away my home, land, everything. If I do not get the money, where will I go? Whenever I come here, they tell me to come again with money. They want Tk10,000 for every Tk1 lakh. They are earning crores of taka in this way,” she said in despair.
Dadon Mia, who lives in the baily bridge area near the Kawrakandi launch terminal, alleged that surveyor Mohiuddin took Tk80,000 from him, but has neither yet given him the compensation nor returned the bribe.
The Shibchar upazila is around 65km from the Madaripur district township where the DC office is located.
If any claimant fails to give bribe, surveyor Mohiuddin and his subordinates come up with newer excuses for not disbursing the compensation. Sometimes they say “your papers are faulty; get them corrected” or “we have not got your papers ready yet; come back next week.”
But, if one has the bribe money, even faulty paperwork will not matter, victims have alleged, adding that the employees of the LA section are mostly involved with the corruption.
When asked, Mohiuddin threw an open challenge saying: “Is there any proof? Who took the bribe? Why do they not complain to the DC or to the LA Sir? There is a magistrate. There is ADC Sir. If I took any money, is there any document or proof?”
Seeking anonymity, a low-ranked employee of the LA section told the Dhaka Tribune that he had recently heard one of the officers saying: “I do not worry even if I lose my job right now. I have earned enough for the rest of my life!”
Madaripur Deputy Commissioner GSM Zafarullah said Mohiuddin and some other officers of the LA section under his office had recently been transferred after the allegations were raised.
Asked why he was transferred if he had not done anything, Mohiuddin said: “I was transferred to the SA section in the next room. This is a regulation transfer, not because of bribery or corruption.”
Requesting anonymity for obvious reasons, an employee of the DC office told the Dhaka Tribune: “Most surveyors of the LA section have accumulated illegal wealth. Surveyor Mohiuddin alone handled more than 2,000 compensation claims. He earned around Tk75 lakh this way. But as far as I know, he has not kept the money in any bank. He has divided the money in several parts and kept them with his relatives.”
Another employee said: “If you look at the statement of the deputy commissioner’s local revenue fund after the land acquisition started, I am sure you will find irregular figures.”
Sources said government officials who work above Mohiuddin also get thick shares of the bribe.
Immediate past DC Shashi Kumar Sinha was transferred following allegations that he was involved with the bribery. Over the last one year, the Madaripur DC office has seen three land acquisition (LA) officers – all of the rank of magistrate.
On November 13, Rashid Shikder, a claimant from the Shukkur Hawlader’s Kandi village, submitted a written complaint to the DC office.
He alleged that surveyor Mohiuddin and some other officers have been squeezing out 10-20% of each compensation claim saying they would deposit the money in the DC’s account.
Before that, Rashid filed similar complaints addressing the project director of the Padma bridge and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Mentioning the names of Mohiuddin and some other officers, the complaints also said these people have made a fortune from the biribes taken from the helpless compensation seekers.
The complaints also said if anyone protested, the accused officers threatened them using the name of the local parliament member.
When asked, DC GSM Zafarullah said they had not yet taken any step regarding these complaints.