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River mortgaged for bank loan, sold later for loan repayment

Ashraful Islam Raana
27 May 2023 00:00:00 | Update: 27 May 2023 00:18:02
River mortgaged for bank loan, sold later for loan repayment
A portion of the Chakirpasha River at Rajarhat upazila in Kurigram turned into a pond by encroachers– Collected photo

Due to the negligence of the authorities concerned, the encroachment of Chakirpasha River at Rajarhat upazila in Kurigram reached such an extent that an encroacher took a bank loan mortgaging the land of the river.

Not only this, the encroacher has sold off the encroached river land to repay the bank loan, alleged the locals.

This allegation has been raised against Mohammad Yunus Ali, former president of Rajarhat upazila Krishak League, who took the Tk 85 lakh loan from state-owned BASIC Bank 12 years ago.

The amount of the loan increased to Tk 1.6 crore with interest. Being unable to repay the loan, Yunus Ali finally sold the 17 acres of encroached land of Chakirpasha River in 2022 to a businessman from Ulipur upazila in the district. He sold the land under mortgage to BASIC Bank for Tk 1.70 crore, according to the Rajarhat land registry office.

National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) officials and local environmental activists cited the inactivity and negligence of the local administration as the reason behind the failure to protect the Chakirpasha River.

In a letter sent to the NRCC at that time, the district administration, however, claimed that the process was going on to recover the encroached land of Chakirpasha River.

Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Kurigram Muhammad Saidul Arif told The Business Post on Monday, “The administration is making all-out efforts to recover the Chakirpasha River. Some 129 cases have been filed against 22 identified encroachers. Hopefully, the Chakirpasha River will be recovered soon.”

According to available documents obtained by The Business Post, the first complete cadastral survey (CS) of India was carried out between 1887 and 1940 where the 50-kilometer-long Chakirpasha was mentioned as a river, originating from the lower area of Itakuri in Rajarhat and joining the Brahmaputra at Chilmari upazila in Kurigram. Being a tributary of Teesta, the river is locally known as Mora Teesta, Buri Teesta, or Chakirpasha.

In a letter to the NRCC in 2020, the Kurigram district administration wrote that Chakirpasha has been mentioned as a marsh in the CS record, expanding over an area of 306 acres at Nafadanga, Khalisha, and Chakirpasha unions of Kurigram.

But in the State Acquisition Survey (SA) conducted between 1956 and 1962, the amount of land mentioned was 229 acres as the remaining portion was already occupied. In the Revision Survey (RS) of 1962, the extent of occupied land stood at 36.28 acres.

During the 1990s, the district administration declared the Chakirpasha River basin as an open wetland.

Meanwhile, in 2020, the district administration prepared a list of encroachers of the Chakirpasha River including the names of 22 influential persons. The list where Yunus Ali’s name appeared in the seventh position also included Ahsan Habib, Bablu Mia, and Zahid Iqbal Suhrawardy of Rajarhat as occupiers.

According to the local people, Yunus Ali dug six ponds and built an agricultural farm on 34 acres of land at the Chakirpasha River. In 2010, Yunus Ali took a loan of Tk 85 lakh from BASIC Bank’s Rangpur branch by mortgaging this land. He sold 17 acres of the mortgaged land to a businessman from Ulipur upazila in 2022.

Asked how he sold the land of the river, Yunus Ali told the Business Post, “I do not know whether it is the land of the river or not. It is mentioned as marshland in the CS record. Now it is said that this land belongs to the river.”

Admitting that his name has been included in the district administration’s list of occupiers, he said, “Yes, my name is there. But the district administration sent a letter to others in the list asking them to hand over the lands, but they did not tell me anything.”

Local fisherman Abul Kalam said, “Yunus Ali has occupied the main flow of the Chakirpasha River. He cultivated paddy in some low land areas. He occupied this portion of the river through influence.”

Abdul Kuddus Sarkar, manager of BASIC Bank's Rangpur branch, admitted that Yunus Ali got a loan by mortgaging the land of the river.

He said, “I joined this branch last January, so I cannot talk about the loans provided previously. I don't know anything about the sale of the mortgaged land. As I am informed now, I will look into it.”

The NRCC has written to the district administration six times in the last two years urging them to take necessary steps to evict the encroachers. “Selling the land of the Chakirpasha River is a matter of grave concern. A river is a state property that cannot be transferred in any way,” said a former official of the NRCC.

Tuhin Wadud, executive director of Riverine Peoples and also a professor of Begum Rokeya University Rangpur, told The Business Post, “The CS records show the Chakirpasha as a flowing river. But some parts of the river where it is deeper and wider are recorded under the marsh category. But later, with the help of some corrupt officers of the land office, several pieces of land at the river have been recorded in the name of occupiers in the SA records. The lands have also been registered in the name of the occupants.”

“Now the river land is being sold and leased which ultimately is like killing the river,” he added in frustration.