Of late, the Narayanganj City Corporation and the Bangladesh Railway have had a falling-out over the Deobhog Gymkhana area in Narayanganj
Will the Sheikh Russel Shishu Park, currently under construction on railway land at the Deobhog Gymkhana area in Narayanganj, be built, or will Bangladesh Railway will sell it in plots after recovering it?
Of late, the Narayanganj City Corporation and the Bangladesh Railway have had a falling-out over the very question.
On October 23, Railways Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan ordered a halt to the construction of the Narayanganj park, claiming it was being built on land that belongs to the Bangladesh Railway.
Based on the minister's instruction, the railway department immediately stopped further work on the half-constructed park.
At a programme the next day, Narayanganj Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy said, "Bangladesh Railway acquired the land from our ancestors. Now they want to divide the land into commercial plots and sell them. That is why they will not allow us to build the park here."
"They do not want us to develop a playground for children here. But we will not let the railway take away the land that has been earmarked for the Sheikh Russel Shishu Park," she vowed.
Sources say that Narayanganj City Corporation in 2011 floated tenders to protect the dying Gymkhana lake and build a park on the land. Over 50 percent of the work has completed for the beautification of the lake and the park at a cost of around Tk36 crore.
A part of the park has already been opened for the local people. Hundreds of people of different ages, including women and children, go to the park every day for a breath of fresh air.
Home to more than one crore residents, the port city has hardly any open spaces or parks for recreation.
The Narayanganj City Corporation took an initiative to renovate Gymkhana Lake and the land around it to make it similar to the Hatirjheel area of the capital.
The park was named the Sheikh Russel Shishu Park, and on November 24, 2017, the Bangabandhu Memorial Trust approved the name.
The city corporation's Panel Mayor Afroza Hassan Biva, also a reserved woman councillor for ward 16, 17 and 18, said there was a railway station in the Gymkhana area during British rule.
But when the railway station was shifted to a place close to the Shitalakkhya River during the Pakistan period, the Gymkhana station area became abandoned.
With the passage of time, a large part of the 38.5-acre area was taken over by land encroachers who set up a slum there, and the lake turned into a garbage dump.
Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy said that the park is being constructed and the railway lake is being conserved on the basis of the Detailed Area Plan, the wetland protection law, a High Court order and the dictum of the prime minister.
"I request the railway minister to visit the park in person before someone else confuses him over the issue. I believe he will understand the Nayaranganj City Corporation has done a splendid job by establishing a park here."
But Railways Minister Sujan, during a visit to the area in October, told journalists that Bangladesh Railway will recover its lost properties in Narayanganj.
"If any organisation needs the railway's land, it must apply to the ministry following all rules and regulations. The railway is being developed now. Once the development is complete, the authorities will follow the rules to allocate its remaining land to the city corporation or to any other organisation. Or else, it will be sold as per the market price."
But Mayor Ivy claimed her city corporation has so far sent 58 letters to the railway ministry since 2003 to get allotment of the land.
"But the ministry did not respond to any of the letters in the last 16 years. Instead, it tried to sell the land as plots on auction," she said.
The Business Standard obtained a copy of a letter sent on October 10 this year where Mayor Ivy requested the ministry to cooperate with her city corporation in the construction of the Sheikh Russel Park. But the ministry did not reply to that letter either.
Sources at the city corporation say that Bangladesh Railway in 1988-89 sold 18 plots from their land in the area. Again in 2004, they called tenders to sell their land, including the Gymkhana lake area.
The High Court ordered Bangladesh Railway to stop selling the land on the basis of an application by the then Narayanganj Municipality.
"I do not know how many procedures we will have to follow to get the allotment of the railway land," said Ivy.
Meanwhile, visitors and Narayanganj's civil society members have expressed frustration over the minister's call for stopping the construction of the Sheikh Russel Park.
Hundreds of local people, with a banner titled 'We the Narayanganj residents', recently staged a demonstration and formed a human chain to protest the ministry's decision.
They said the city corporation saved the Gymkhana Lake area, and city residents can now visit the place with their families and relatives. They urged the authorities to hand over the land to the city corporation as soon as possible.
Mahbubur Rahman Masum, the president of the Narayanganj Press Club, said the railway has set a bad example by putting a stop to the construction of the park.
Hundreds of acres of railway land have been illegally occupied, and some corrupt railway officials have embezzled crores of taka in the name of leasing out the land. But the authorities seem to be unconcerned about recovering those plots.
Irin Begum and Aslam, a married couple who came to the park recently, said the city corporation has done a splendid job of establishing a beautiful park. They requested the authorities not to destroy such a charming open space.
City Mayor Ivy told The Business Standard her city corporation has set up the park for the benefit of the people.
She called on the railway minister to consider the need for a park where people can get a respite from a choking city life.
Railways Secretary Md Mofazzal Hossain said the ministry will consider applications from any agency or organisation that seeks allotment of railway land by properly following rules and regulations.
"We have allotted railway land earlier to different ministries and government organisations, including to the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. If the Narayanganj City Corporation applies for the land through the proper channels, we will allocate the land to them," he said.
The secretary has informed The Business Standard that they have no plan at present to sell the land of the park area as commercial plots.