Bangladesh PM Opens China-Funded Exhibition Center Despite Court Challenge

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2021-10-21
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Bangladesh PM Opens China-Funded Exhibition Center Despite Court Challenge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announces the opening of the Bangabandhu Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center, on the outskirts of Dhaka, during a virtual speech from her official residence, Oct. 21, 2021.
Focus Bangla

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday opened the Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center, a centerpiece of the South Asian nation’s first smart city, but which critics have challenged in court over concerns about its environmental impact.

The center, located in the heart of the under-construction Purbachal New Town, cost U.S. $95 million, of which China donated nearly $61.5 million. With 33,000 square meters of floor space, the building is one of the biggest exhibition centers in Bangladesh.

However, the project’s chief engineer noted that the building’s transfer to the Ministry of Commerce’s Export Promotion Bureau could not occur because of the environmental challenges in the courts.

“We need to see an end to the legal battle at the High Court so we can hand over the center to the EPB,” Ujjwal Mallick, director of Purbachal project, told BenarNews. “So we have been in the process of filing an appeal in the court against its order on a fifth amendment of the Purbachal land-use plan.”

The Bangabandhu Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center is named after Bangladesh’s founding leader, Hasina’s late father. She inaugurated the building during a virtual speech from her official residence in nearby Dhaka.

In 1995, the Capital City Development Authority (RAJUK) established a plan to construct the Purbachal smart city on 6,150 acres in the Gazipur district in central Bangladesh, with construction beginning in 2002. The city on the outskirts of Dhaka is to accommodate about 1 million people to reduce pressure on the Bangladeshi capital.

Environmentalists have alleged that RAJUK introduced amendments detrimental to forest reserves and floodplains in the area. They said the proposals veered from Bangladesh’s forest law and an existing law to protect water bodies.

In 2013, the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Ain-O-Salish Kendra and five other NGOs filed a complaint before the High Court against RAJUK’s proposed amendments, Nur Khan, former executive director of Ain-O-Salish, a human rights group, told BenarNews.

The next year, he said, the court approved the project’s fourth amendment proposal and asked RAJUK not to “subtract, vary or modify the forest, lakes, canals, urban green, parks and playgrounds” without the court’s permission.

RAJUK introduced a fifth amended proposal in 2017, Khan said while alleging that this violated the court’s earlier ruling.

RAJUK proposed infrastructure construction on open spaces protected by the fourth amendment, Khan said. It also proposed increasing the commercial center at Purbachal.

BD-China Friendship Exhibition Center.jpg
A view of the Bangabandhu Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Center on the outskirts of Dhaka, Oct. 21, 2021. [Focus Bangla]

The latest amended plan also extended the land housing the exhibition center from 10 to 26 acres, Mallick told BenarNews.

The court in 2019 had turned down RAJUK’s fifth amended proposal and limited the scope of its building project, according to the environmentalists.

“There are some legal issues with the Purbachal project, but there was no legal bar to construct the exhibition center,” project director Mohammad Rezaul Karim told BenarNews on Thursday. “So we went ahead with the construction of the exhibition center.”

The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka did not respond immediately to a BenarNews request for comment.

China, which has launched One Belt, One Road project, an estimated $1 trillion-plus infrastructure program to build a network of railways, ports and bridges across 70 countries, is Bangladesh’s biggest partner in infrastructure projects.

“The Chinese want to further extend the project. But we are not sure whether we can do it because of the legal challenges by the environmentalists,” Mallick said.

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