Local influential people are bribing the district administration into leasing lands to them
The Central Shaheed Minar in Naragati of Narail stands on the brink of destruction due to encroachment of land by influential locals.
Although the people of the locality have been struggling to preserve the Shaheed Minar for the last 10 years, government authorities continue to lease the site to land encroachers, and the monument may be lost sooner or later.
Locals, including freedom fighters, hosted a sit-in activity in February to protest loss of the site.
According to them, after Naragati was separated from the Kalia upazila in 2000, a salute stage was erected in front of the Naragati police station. Once the police station was shifted from Naragati in 2008, Udichi turned the stage into the Shaheed Minar with the help of contributions from locals.
The police station, freedom fighter office, political headquarters of different parties and several educational institutes exist beside the Shaheed Minar. The monument became a place to pay respects to the freedom fighters and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on different occasions such as Independence Day.
As the Shaheed Minar stands on government land, local encroachers began eyeing the property, with the Shaheed Minar standing as the only obstacle- triggering the process of slowly destroying it.
'Leasing has taken more importance than preservation of the Shaheed Minar'
In 2016, a group of influential locals leased 14 places near the site from the upazila administration. At night, they started felling trees and building houses on the leased lands.
Locals complained that the upazila administration was cajoled into leasing the lands with a lot of financial incentives.
Udichi representatives have been trying to stop the upazila and district administration from this activity for the last three years; but the authorities continued to lease land at the entrance of the monument, while criminals planned to attack the Udichi headquarters.
After Joynagar union parishad chairman claimed ownership of the land in 2018 and lodged a case, the court issued Section 144, barring locals from hosting the annual Book Fair.
Udichi President of Naragati, Abdus Sattar said: "I went to the Kalia Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) and Narail Deputy Commissioner (DC) Imdadul Haque to talk about preserving the Shaheed Minar, after which the DC instructed the UNO to evict the leaseholders, but no action was taken."
Locals claimed Naragati Chhatra League President Mahabub Alam, Joynagar union Awami League President Chowdhury Shawkat, Naragati Jubo League Joint Convener Lincoln Chowdhury, Jubo League leader Kamal Mollah, Baharul Chowdhury, ward member Sabur Mollah, youth leader Rasel Sheikh and several others were leaseholders.
Joynagar union freedom fighter Haji Nowsher Ali said: "For the last 10 years, we have been coming to the Shaheed Minar to place floral wreaths, but if markets and shops are established on this land, where will we go to honour the martyrs' memory? We want it to be preserved with the respect the Minar deserves."
Jalil Biswas, another freedom fighter, said: "Naragati has only one Shaheed Minar for thousands of people. Apart from paying respect to the martyrs, we organize book fairs and other events. If the land is in the control of the leaseholders' control, there is nowhere we can go for such events."
After a recent inspection, the UNO in his report stated that the Shaheed Minar was only three years old, and was in favour of leasing the land as there was no allocation for constructing the monument, and that the land had been grabbed, which further enraged the locals.
Naragati Jubo League Organizational Secretary Ishabul Alam said: "In 2008, our MP provided government grants for the construction of the Shaheed Minar. I do not understand how government officials can lease the land."
Naragati bazar committee President Rubel Chowdhury complained the UNO took Tk100,000-250,000 as bribes from the leaseholders for each lease.
"Now he and the leaseholders are planning to destroy the monument, as he knows if it stands, he will have no monetary gain. Leasing has taken more importance than the preservation of the Shaheed Minar," he said.
Kalia upazila UNO Md Nazmul Huda denied the claims. "I never leased anyone any land, as leasing is now closed due to the case.The previous UNO had leased the lands."
Additional Deputy Commissioner of Narail, Kazi Mahbubur Rashid said: "If we want to preserve the Shaheed Minar, we have to change the perimeter of the land, or shift the Shaheed Minar elsewhere. Steps will be taken after inspecting the monument."
He further said action will be taken against any individual leasing the land if anyone lodges a written complaint.