The government initiative to build a hospital via public-private partnership (PPP) at Chattogram Railway Building (CRB) area is facing protests on grounds of potential environmental damage.
Bangladesh Railway (BR) signed an agreement with United Enterprise and Company Limited for a PPP project worth Tk 400 crore on March 18, 2020, under which the latter would build a medical college, a 500-bed hospital and a nursing institute, said sources in BR, east zone.
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Although protesters said the project would have an adverse impact on the environment due to felling a number of century-old trees, BR officials said the environment will not be affected, claiming that none of the trees would have to be cut down for the project.
However, workers’ organisations of BR have also been protesting the project in the area. They submitted a memorandum to the prime minister recently, requesting for revision of the project site.
“We are not against building a hospital, but we are opposing the decision to build it at that location,” said SK Bari, Chattogram divisional coordinator of Bangladesh Railway Shramik Karmachari Sangram Parishad.
“The area is a spot of natural beauty in the city. Apart from environmental hazards, the project would displace over a hundred families of railway workers living there.”
At the spot yesterday, some 20 tin-roof quarters of railway workers were found to be dismantled for the project. A signboard of the project was also found at the site.
“We formed a human chain and submitted a memorandum to the prime minister to revise the project site,” he said. “There are acres of barren land under BR on the outskirts of the city, and any of the sites would be excellent for the project.”
CRB, the headquarters of Bangladesh Railway’s east zone, is surrounded by hills, hillocks and valleys with a number of century-old trees. The area is considered the oxygen centre of the city. It is also a habitat for different species of birds and wild animals.
People go for morning and evening walks at the area; many others visit the place to take in fresh air.
The area’s “Shirishtola” has become a centre for cultural activities. Apart from “Borsha Baron” programme and many other cultural events, celebration of Pahela Baishakh is also celebrated there.
Concerned citizens said the project would hinder cultural activities that were developed centring CRB.
The place also has historic importance. The present CRB was built by British rulers as the headquarters of Bengal and Assam Railway in then undivided India in 1895. The anti-British youth revolutionaries of Chattogram conducted drives in the area to collect funds.
In a statement to media on Monday, 17 distinguished personalities of Chattogram, including writer Begum Mushtari Shafi, Premier University Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof Dr Anupam Sen, East Delta University VC Prof Sekandar Khan, poet and journalist Abul Momen, and theatre and cultural personality Ahmed Iqbal Haider protested the decision.
They said the people of Chattogram need hospitals, but they should not be built by harming the environment, and urged the government to shift the project site to any other piece of BR land that would not adversely affect the environment.
Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh in a statement on Monday also demanded the same.
Contacted, Md Jahangir Hossain, general manager of BR east zone, said the project would have no bad impact on the environment.
“We will not even cut down a single century-old tree,” he said.
“The city needs modern hospitals to discourage patients from going abroad for treatment. Those who are protesting cannot understand this. We assure everyone that we will not do anything that would harm the environment.”
The project was approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs on August 14, 2013, said BR sources, adding that the prime minister approved it on February 23, 2020.
The company would operate the hospital, college and institute for 50 years and then hand it over to BR.
Under the agreement, the company would pay BR Tk 75 lakh annually on the third and fourth year and Tk 1.5 crore annually on the fifth and sixth year as fee, which would increase by 10 percent every year from then on.
Contacted, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said, “The government policy is to initiate at least 30 percent of development projects through PPP.”
“The PM’s office oversees it directly. The land of railway has been left unused, and we have taken initiative to utilise it for the people’s sake. We are going to build a hospital there, which is necessary for people.”
About concerns of distinguished personalities of the city, he said he would talk to the political leaders of the city about the matter.
ORGANISATIONS ISSUE LEGAL NOTICE
Five organisations — Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, Association for Land Reform and Development, Nijera Kori, and Poribesh Bachao Andolon — yesterday issued a legal notice to authorities concerned, demanding keeping CRB area an open space, and opposing construction of a hospital by cutting down trees and hills.
They also demanded protecting the century-old trees and biodiversity by declaring the place a “special biodiversity conservation area” under existing laws.