According to the Road Transport and Highway Division, the project was expected to begin in April 2018 and finish by December 2022
While the 214km Dhaka-Sylhet Highway expansion project is yet to commence, a group of local landowners in Narsingdi are looking to swindle the government out of additional compensation.
The owners of the lands hope to accomplish this by building makeshift structures on their lands which will in future be acquired by the government in order for the project to begin.
According to the Road Transport and Highway Division (RTHD), the project was expected to begin in April 2018 and finish by December 2022. The project was undertaken in order to expand the previously two-lane highway into four lanes, 54km of which will cross over Narsingdi.
Local influential landowners in the district are building temporary structures including high-rise buildings, markets, and other commercial establishments without any legal clearance in order to get additional compensation, said locals.
The Acquisition and Requisition of Immovable Property Act stipulates a landowner giving up lands for public use must be compensated on the basis of its market value, and land value appreciates with immovable assets on it.
Locals wishing to remain anonymous said, the landowners believe the government compensation rates are much higher than the market value and so they are looking to make a large profit from this unethical endeavour.
The buildings are being constructed with low grade materials, which is putting their lives at risk in case of a collapse. The ongoing construction work is being done by a syndicate looking to pocket part of the compensation, they added.
They also alleged that this race to put up buildings is most likely not going unnoticed by the RTHD and the authorities concerned are involved themselves.
On a field visit, this correspondent found numerous buildings being constructed in Chaitanna of Shibpur upazila.
Asked, a few construction workers said local influential people are the owners of these multistorey buildings, but that they were unaware of the owners’ motives.
Mofazzal Haidar, local RTHD deputy engineer, said: "We have sent video footage of the illegal structures to the project director's office and we expect him to act soon. We have also sent letters to some 168 landowners to stop the illegal construction. We have alerted district and upazila authorities and locals with notices as well."
Asked about the delay in land acquisition, Deputy Commissioner Syeda Farhana Kaunain, said: "We have submitted a detailed probe report to the council of ministers about the present situation and asked them to begin the expansion project soon.
"We have also directed district and upazila administration to take action against the unauthorized buildings as soon as possible," she added.