June 30, 2010

Graft spoils river saving project

The project to save a dying river in Natore is likely to fail as a section of local politicians and Water Development Board officials are busy pocketing the funds, an investigation reveals.
The Tk 13 crore project was taken in 2008 to revive the river Narod by widening and dredging. Contractors were entrusted to dig five feet deep into the river and leave the earth far from the banks.
But they are digging the river haphazardly and putting the extracted earth right on the banks, further narrowing down the stream.

As demarcation of the river and eviction of grabbers are left out of the project's work list, locals say it benefits none but some political leaders.
The project is simply an eyewash and wastage of public funds, they said.
Besides, the project has no provision to stop draining of chemical waste into the river from Natore Sugar Mills, Jamuna Distillery and Pran Agro Limited.
During a recent visit to the project site, it was found that houses and shops are being constructed occupying the riverbanks after earth filling. At many points, the grabbers are filling the river with dug earth.
Chief Monitoring Officer of WDB in Dhaka Md Saidur Rahman said a river cannot be revived without evicting the grabbers.
Investigation finds a syndicate led by Natore unit Jubo League president Shariful Islam Ramjan and general secretary Shafiqul Islam Shimul, backed by some WDB officials, manipulated the tender procedure of the project.
“The syndicate submitted seven tenders. Of them, three were chosen,” said a WDB official in Natore. “Some other eligible firms, who quoted cheaper prices, were declared unqualified,” he said seeking anonymity.
Emdadul Haque, general secretary of Natore municipality unit BNP, Abul Hossain of Rajshahi and Dhaka-based Western Engineering won the project quoting five to ten percent less than the estimated price.
The three contractors had to promise the syndicate members a share of the project money.
“Over two-thirds of the project fund have been misappropriated by the syndicate members, contractors and the WDB officials,” said a Jubo League leader, who is very close to Ramjan.
“I have got 10 percent while Emdadul got 30 percent of the fund,” Ramjan admitted to this correspondent. He said Shimul and BNP activists Ashfaqul, Nazimuddin and James also got their shares.
“We negotiated with the contractors before dropping tender documents,” said Ramjan, admitting that it wouldn't be possible to qualify for the project with his own licence.
He, however, denied having manipulated the tender process.
He said, along with the contractors they are implementing the project to no benefit of the river. “If you want to revive the river, you must demarcate it first and then remove the illegal structures,” he added.
Emdadul said he got the work quoting five percent less. “It is Shimul and Ramjan who are doing everything [in the project] by using my licence.”
Executive Engineer of WDB in Natore Musa Nurur Rahman claimed he knew nothing about the matter. “It is not our duty to see who are actually implementing the project.”
Musa claimed the project is being implemented properly. He made the comments without visiting the site, which is only walking distance from his office and residence.
“We will soon buy two motor-bikes with the project money to oversee the project activities,” he said.
Natore district Jubo League vice president Rashidur Rahman Chowdhury said many companies quoted even 20 to 40 percent less to get the work.
“I myself quoted 35 percent less but I was declared unqualified for not providing a relevant paper,” he said. He attached all the necessary documents, but one of them went missing 'mysteriously'.
Although massive corruption is taking place in the Narod river project, Rashidur said nobody in Natore dares to protest the irregularities, fearing backlash from the syndicate members.
“I have been implicated in two false cases for raising voice against the corruption,” Rashidur Rahman, also a rice trader, said sitting at his Natore town office.
Cross-sections of people in Natore have expressed sheer disappointment over the project.
“We were very hopeful of reviving the river when the project started. Now we are frustrated to see the river is losing its land to the grabbers due to stockpiling of dug earth on the banks,” regretted Yunus Ali, a resident of Natore town.
Khalid Bin Jalal Bachchu, an environmentalist and the general secretary of Narod River Protection Committee, termed the project an eyewash. “We could have saved the river if the grabbers were evicted and the project money was used properly,” he observed.
Sources in WDB and leaders of AL and Jubo League said the executive engineer joined hands with the syndicate for financial benefit.
Musa denied the allegation. “We can't award the project to all the capable firms,” he added.
“As he [Musa] hails from Gopalganj, the prime minister's home district, he poses as very powerful person,” said an AL leader, who is also a contractor by profession.
Although Musa was transferred to Dhaka, he is holding the position by force. And Executive Engineer Dhirendranath Sarker, who was transferred to Natore from Rangpur a month ago, could not join office.
The 36-kilometres Narod starts from the river Musakha in Rajshahi and converges into Nandakuza in Gurudaspur before crossing Natore town. Once called lifeline of Natore, the river became a polluted canal due to encroachment, dumping of wastes and authorities' negligence over the years.

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