Rangamati authorities allow Kaptai Lake grab
Muktasree Chakma Sathi
Encroachment on significant areas of Kaptai Lake in Rangamati is taking place as both the Rangamati district council and the district commissioner’s office are leasing land over the lake for residential and business purposes including for hotels and shopping complexes.
The district’s municipality is also willingly providing trade licences and permits to build on this land.
As a result, owners of many multi-storey hotels, shopping complexes, houses, motor workshops, food and boutique shops and drug stores have encroached on different parts of the lake, in particular the Rangamati town area.
The Rangamati municipality has also constructed its own market on the bank of the lake.
Whilst in the dry season it appears that the buildings are constructed on land, in the rainy season it is clear that the buildings are built on piles within the lake.
Fazle Alahi, executive director of the Global Village, an organisation which works on environment issues in Rangamati, told New Age, ‘No authorities should lease out the land for any purpose which could cause obstruction to the lake’s natural flow.’
‘An irregularity has now become regular here. Encroachment on the lake is no more considered a crime,’ he said.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum leader and CHT land expert Shaktipada Tripura said, ‘The land of the lake is controlled by two authorities. According to the Rangamati District Council Act 1998, some of the land is under the authority of the Rangamati district council’s “bazar fund”. According to Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997, some of the land belongs to the deputy commissioner’s office.’
‘If someone wants to lease an area of Kaptai Lake which is in the bazar, or market, area, then it needs to seek the permission of the district council. However if one want to lease an area of the lake which is outside of this area then they must seek the permission of the deputy commissioner’s office.’
The Rangamati District Council chairman, Nikhil Kumar Chakma, however, denied to New Age that he had any responsibility for any of the Kaptai lake land area.
‘According to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997, responsibility for this lies with the deputy commissioner’s office. The deputy commissioner has the full authority and his decision is final on land, according to this accord,’ he said.
He agreed though that ‘building infrastructures such as hotels and markets are seriously polluting the lake.’
M Khalilur Rahman, additional deputy commissioner of Rangamati, however, dismissed this view of the district council’s chairman, and told New Age, ‘Permitting the lease of the lake land lies with the ‘bazar fund’ of the district council. We have nothing to do about it.’
One example of encroachment has been done by the Hotel Sufia. Shafiqul Islam Munna, the hotel owner, told New Age that he has taken a land lease from the concerned authorities with permission for building a hotel there although he did not mention whether this was the district council or the deputy commissioner’s office
He said that the municipality had approved the design of the building. ‘If it is illegal, the municipality, not we, should be held responsible.’
Habibur Rahman, who had until two months ago been the municipality chairman for a 12-year stretch, said, ‘The relevant authorities give licences which clearly state that the owner can use the land for housing or commercial purposes. I had nothing to do with this [kind of leasing] except for giving permissions for undertaking construction or business as they had the rights from the lease.’
Asked about the construction of the Municipal Market encroaching on the lake, the current municipality chairman Saiful Islam Chowdhury Bhutto said, ‘I have taken up this position just two months ago. I am not certain how far the market structure violates the law. I will look into the matter.’
Kaptai Lake was created by damming the River Karnaphuli at Kaptai in the Rangamati Hill Tracts in 1961 mainly for hydroelectric power generation.
According to the 1975 edition of the Bangladesh District Gazetteer CHT, the creation of Kaptai Lake caused the loss of 54,000 acres of agricultural land, which account 40 per cent of the total agricultural land of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
It is now one of the major sources of freshwater fishes in Bangladesh.