The dispute became public only recently when Ali filed a case on October 15 against Gonoshasthaya founder Dr Zafarullah Chowdhury and some of his colleagues, accusing them of 'theft, extortion and intimidation'
It all began 15 years ago over the possession of 4.24 acres of land in Ashulia’s Pathalia mouja, on the outskirts of Dhaka. Since then, a silent dispute has been going on between businessman Mohammad Ali and the Gonoshasthaya Kendra.
The dispute became public only recently when Ali filed a case on October 15 against Gonoshasthaya founder Dr Zafarullah Chowdhury and some of his colleagues, accusing them of “theft, extortion and intimidation.”
Ali claimed that Zafrullah, a renowned social worker and freedom fighter, and his colleagues, tried to illegally occupy his land and demanded Tk1 crore as extortion.
The land in question has an estimated market value of at least Tk15 crore. The plot is located in an area which already hosts several establishments by Gonoshasthaya – Gonoshasthaya Kendra office, Gonoshasthaya Samaj Vittik Medical College Hospital, Gono Bishwabidyalay, some hostels, and more.
Ali’s case names Zafarullah and three of his colleagues - Gono Bishawabidyalay Registrar Delwar Hossain, Gonoshasthaya Kendra Executive Director (administration) Saiful Islam Shishir, and Awlad Hossain, and accuses a number of other unnamed people.
The case was filed just after the Detective Branch of police opened an investigation into allegations of sedition against Zafarullah for his remarks concerning army chief General Aziz Ahmed, on a television talk show.
Dozens of general diaries filed
The 4.24-acre land is reportedly owned by three businessmen – Ali, Anisur Rahman, and Tajul Islam. Ali claimed they bought the plot together in 1996.
They have filed over a dozen general diaries and at least two cases over the land’s possession.
The first general diary (GD) was filed with Savar police by one of the owners, Tajul, on May 1, 2003, accusing Gonoshasthaya Kendra employee, Delwar, and some unnamed people, of barring his staff from putting up a fence on the plot.
A case was later filed with Ashulia police on September 25, 2008, naming seven people and accusing 30-35 other unidentified men of illegal entry into the plot, theft, damaging property, and making threats.
Among the many other GDs, Mohammad Ali filed one with Ashulia police on December 18, 2008, naming 16 people and accusing some unnamed people of illegal entry to his land, and vandalizing property. Also, on August 3, 2016, a GD was filed with Ashulia police for causing damage to the property on the land.
All the GD’s include the names of Delwar Hossain and Shishir, but Zafarullah’s name only appeared in the latest case.
Who owns the land?
Both parties – Gonoshasthaya Kendra and the three businessman – claim the land is in their possession and have accused the other party of “trying to grab the land.”
“I, as the owner of the land, have already filed a series of GDs against Gonoshasthaya officials as they have regularly caused damage to my property and have been putting pressure on me to sell the land. I wanted to file a case, but police never recorded a case as Zafarullah is a renowned person,” said plaintiff Ali.
Zafarullah himself had threatened Ali to give up the land, saying he wanted to build a cancer institute there, the businessman claimed.
“On October 12, when I went to the land, Delwar, Saiful, Awlad, and some other people put pressure on me to sell the land and assaulted me. I filed a GD the following day, and the case on Oct 15,” he added.
He claimed the accused have demanded Tk1 crore in extortion from him.
Ali alleged that Zafarullah had grabbed land from many others and pressured many more in the locality to sell their land.
“The victims will file cases against Zafrullah soon,” he added.
Zafarullah, on the other hand, said Ali was a landgrabber.
“We have owned the land since 1982. But landgrabber Mohammad Ali is trying to occupy the plot to build a factory. We plan to establish a girls’ hostel there,” the Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder said.
“We have five acres of land in our name. We have sold five kathas from this plot to Ali and his two partners. They filed this case to occupy the rest of the land,” he claimed.
Responding to a question on why the fight for the land is going on if Gonoshasthaya has all legal documents of ownership, Zafarullah accused Ali of using forged documents.
“None of the previously filed GDs included my name as he did not have the courage. Now he is taking advantage of my situation,” he said.
Ali, the man with papers
When the Dhaka Tribune asked both parties about land related documents, only Ali came forward. He has the land development tax receipt, Khatiyan (record of rights), and proposal of nomination and submission of the land on his behalf.
According to the land development tax receipt, Ali has paid Tk92,750 to the Bagdonia Land Office on October 22 for 4.24 acres of land in Savar’s Pathalia Mouja.
A Khatiyan document, dated December 19, 2013, shows Mohammad Ali and two of his partners as the land’s owners.
The proposal of nomination and submission of land document, dated January 5, 2014, says the land was an unprotected property with one Nripendra Kumer Roy Chowdhury. Ali and two others applied for nomination and submission of the document from the original owner on the day, and the land office opined in favour of the three owners.
The land is not a vested property.
Zafarullah claimed that his organization had the land-related documents but could not show any when asked.
Land grabbing allegations against Zafrullah
During a recent visit, the Dhaka Tribune correspondent found that there are three semi-pucca rooms on the land situated in front of Gonoshasthaya Kendra.
There is a signboard on the property which says the plot is owned by the Gonoshasthaya Trust. The rooms have electricity connections provided by Gonoshasthaya.
Chunks of soil from the land were recently taken away.
Local residents Abul Hashem, Haider, Khalek, and some other people said the land had remained abandoned for a long time. Although the plot was fenced, the fencing was pulled down one and a half years ago, they said.
They claimed that there was a clash between people from Gonoshasthaya and Mohammad Ali’s men about six months ago over possession of the land. Police had to intervene to resolve the conflict. Since then, the locals said, Gonoshasthaya put up a signboard on the land.
Pathalia Union Parishad Chairman Parvez Dewan alleged that Zafrullah’s people tried to occupy all the land in the area.
“For the last 20 years, there have been complaints that people from Gonoshasthaya are grabbing land from locals under the pretext of charity projects,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Jahangir, a local, had approached the chairman, alleging Zafarullah’s men had grabbed his land.
“I cross-checked his documents with the land office and found them to be authentic. The issue then went to higher authorities and I could not help him. His land was later occupied by Gonoshasthaya,” Chairman Parvez said.
The UP chairman alleged that of Ali’s case did not advance as Zafrullah is an influential person.
Ashulia Police Station Officer-in-Charge, Rezaul Huq Dipu, said a good number of GDs have been filed against Zafarullah accusing him of landgrabbing and extortion. He said police are looking into the allegations and would disclose details once the investigation is over.