From tea stall owner to dominant land mogul in Gazipur

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Momen

Momen’s rise from a tea stall owner in the city market of Kaliganj Upazila, Gazipur, to a powerful and wealthy landowner is a story that reads like a modern-day fable of corruption and influence. His transformation from a peon in the Deputy Commissioner’s office to a feared local magnate, with the alleged support of former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed, has left a lasting impact on the local communities of Tumulia and Nagri Union. This article delves into the details of Momen’s ascent, the methods he employed, and the consequences faced by the locals.

Momen’s early years were spent working alongside his father at a tea stall in the bustling city market of Kaliganj Upazila. This modest beginning did not hint at the dramatic change that lay ahead. Seeking better prospects, Momen secured a position as a peon in the Deputy Commissioner’s office. It was here that he started dabbling in land brokerage, leveraging his position to gain insider knowledge and contacts.

Momen’s fortunes took a dramatic turn when he crossed paths with Benazir Ahmed, the then-Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and later the IGP. Benazir Ahmed’s arrival in the region around 2017 marked the beginning of a significant shift in the local power dynamics. Initially, Benazir began purchasing small parcels of land, but as his ambitions grew, so did the scale of his acquisitions. Momen, with his deep knowledge of the local land market and connections, quickly became an invaluable ally to Benazir.

Under Benazir’s patronage, Momen’s land brokerage business flourished, albeit through dubious means. The lush and fertile lands of Chankhola, Bagardia, and Amtala in Kaliganj Upazila became prime targets for acquisition. These areas, primarily used for paddy cultivation and fishing, were home to many locals who depended on the land for their livelihood. However, Momen’s methods for acquiring these lands were far from ethical.

Numerous reports from locals paint a grim picture of how Momen and his associates operated. Landowners often found themselves coerced into selling their properties at nominal prices, driven by fear of retribution or legal troubles. In many cases, fraudulent documents were created to facilitate the transfer of land ownership. Momen’s team, which included brokers like Bimal, Ramzan, and Pradeep, played a key role in these operations.

Md. Alamgir Sheikh, a local victim, recounted his harrowing experience. He was forcibly taken from his home and threatened with “crossfire”-a euphemism for extrajudicial killing-unless he signed over his land. The land, now valued at around 70 million BDT, was taken under duress. Similarly, Abdur Sobahan sold his land for a fraction of its worth and received only a partial payment. His attempts to recover the remaining amount were met with threats and intimidation.

Momen’s influence extended beyond land deals. His close association with Benazir Ahmed provided him with a significant degree of control over local law enforcement. This relationship ensured that any complaints or resistance from the locals were swiftly quashed. Reports of harassment by the police were common, with many locals choosing to remain silent out of fear for their safety.

Jahangir Hossain, another victim, described how he lost 57 percent of his land due to fake documents orchestrated by Momen. When he tried to reclaim his land, he was threatened by Momen’s goons, who claimed to be acting on higher orders. Jahangir’s story is not unique; many others faced similar fates, their voices stifled by the pervasive atmosphere of fear.

The land grabs not only dispossessed many landowners but also had a profound impact on the local economy. The fertile lands of Chankhola, Bagardia, and Amtala were essential for the livelihood of many residents. These lands, used for paddy cultivation and fishing, provided sustenance and income for numerous families. With the land now under Momen’s control, locals found themselves barred from accessing these resources.

Fishing, a significant source of income for many, was heavily restricted. Momen’s team prohibited locals from fishing in the bills (water bodies), which were now his private property. Law enforcement was often deployed to enforce these bans, further alienating the locals from their traditional means of livelihood.

As Momen’s wealth grew, so did his investments. He built a vast garden and a fish enclosure spanning around 100 bighas in Ryan village, valued at over 100 million BDT. This property showcased his growing empire, complete with significant investments in fish, cattle, and poultry farming. The fish enclosure alone contained millions worth of fish, while his cattle farm housed hundreds of cows, valued at over 50 million BDT. Additionally, a large chicken farm with thousands of golden chickens added to his wealth.

Despite several attempts by local representatives to address the issue, Momen’s influence, backed by Benazir Ahmed’s power, kept him untouchable. Public outcry grew as more people began to speak out against Momen’s actions. The local UP member highlighted the difficulty in confronting Momen, given his connections and the pervasive fear he instilled in the community.

The tide began to turn as news of Benazir Ahmed’s departure from the country spread. This shift in power dynamics emboldened the locals to speak out and reclaim their properties. Jahangir Hossain, for instance, managed to take back his land after Benazir’s corruption came to light. This newfound hope for justice spurred many to come forward with their stories of coercion and fraud.

When confronted about his sudden wealth and the allegations of land grabbing, Momen was defensive and evasive. He claimed that his prosperity stemmed from legitimate land brokerage, denying any wrongdoing. His aggressive demeanor and reluctance to discuss his rise indicated a deeper fear of exposure and accountability.

Momen’s claim of owning 50 billion BDT, though hyperbolic, underscored his confidence in his untouchable status. His assertion that Benazir Ahmed’s land dealings were above board contrasted sharply with the numerous testimonies of coercion and fraud. He dismissed inquiries about his wealth and influence with contempt, further fueling suspicions about his methods.

Momen’s story is a stark reminder of how power and corruption can transform lives and landscapes. From a humble tea vendor to a feared millionaire, his rise was fueled by connections with influential figures and unscrupulous practices. The plight of the dispossessed locals and the slow unraveling of his empire reflect the complex interplay of fear, power, and justice in rural Bangladesh. As the truth about Benazir Ahmed’s involvement continues to emerge, there is a renewed hope that accountability and restitution will follow, restoring dignity and rights to those who suffered under Momen’s reign.

The case of Momen serves as a critical example of the broader issues of land corruption and abuse of power in Bangladesh. It highlights the urgent need for stronger regulatory frameworks and more robust enforcement mechanisms to protect vulnerable communities from exploitation. As the country continues to grapple with these challenges, the stories of those affected by Momen’s actions remain a poignant reminder of the human cost of corruption and the enduring quest for justice.

Addressing the systemic issues that allowed Momen’s rise requires a multi-faceted approach. Strengthening local governance, enhancing transparency in land transactions, and empowering community members to speak out without fear of retribution are essential steps. The local administration must work in tandem with national authorities to ensure that cases of land grabbing and corruption are thoroughly investigated and that those responsible are held accountable.

Momen’s story underscores the need for vigilance and reform in Bangladesh’s land management systems. It serves as a cautionary tale of how unchecked power and corruption can devastate communities and livelihoods. Yet, it also offers a glimmer of hope that, with concerted effort and systemic change, justice can prevail and the rights of the vulnerable can be restored.

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