Ministry favours law-breaker Hall-Mark Group

Environment dept fined Hall-Mark Group Tk 40 lakh, ministry reduces it to Tk 4 lakh; court orders arrest of its MD in land-grabbing case

The photo shot from Singair bridge at Savar on the outskirts of the capital shows the filling up of low land for the Hall-Mark Group’s industrial park, in the background, by unloading sand through steel pipes. Inset, the boundary walls and structures set up by the company allegedly through grabbing land.Photo: STAR
Tawfique Ali

The environment ministry has mysteriously cut a Tk 40 lakh penalty down to Tk 4 lakh slapped against Hall-Mark Group for illegally setting up an industrial park at Savar on the outskirts of the capital.

The Department of Environment fined the company for illegally initiating the park on a 100-acre area, including Dhaleshwari river wetland to the south of Singair bridge. Destructive to ecology, the project has no environmental clearance.

On May 3, the company confessed to the offence and paid the fine.

But the DoE delayed depositing the penalty money to the government treasury for a week apparently to facilitate a chance to the company to avail the favour of the environment ministry’s appellate authority.

The department earlier in October penalised the company with another Tk 5 lakh fine for illegally setting up Hall-Mark Knitting Industries and a cattle farm, and Hall-Mark Managing Director Md Tanvir Mahmud paid it without objection.

On May 10, the appellate authority led by Additional Secretary Auparup Chowdhury let the Hall-Mark off, glorifying the company as a cent percent export oriented group, according to documents obtained by The Daily Star.

DoE Director Mohammad Munir Chowdhury, in his document submitted to the appellate authority, said the company’s appeal was unlawful and unethical, as it had already confessed to the crime and paid the penalty money.

Still, the appeal body asked the company to obtain environmental clearance in three months, paying no heed to the fact that part of the occupied area is river wetland and rest is designated as rural settlement in the Detailed Area Plan of Dhaka city.

Hasan Mahmud, minister for environment and forests, said he was unaware of the issue and asked this correspondent to talk to the officer concerned and the chief of DoE.

Auparup Chowdhury, who gave the order on the appeal, could not be contacted as he was travelling to Germany.

Mesbah ul Alam, secretary of the ministry, said they could look into an appeal body’s anomaly only if a specific complaint is filed.

Asked why there had been a delay in depositing the penalty money, Monowar Islam, director general of DoE, said, “I do not know. I have to check it.”

“We have to comply with the ministry order as it is the highest authority,” he said on the ministry’s role in this regard.

Meanwhile, a Dhaka court yesterday issued an arrest warrant against Md Tanvir Mahmud after one Muksudur Rahman filed a case alleging that the company had grabbed the latter’s land at Janata Housing.

Waliza Hasan, chairperson of Janata Housing Environment Protection Forum, said the company had forcibly occupied several hundred plots at the 600-acre project to set the industrial park at Tentuljhora in Hemayetpur.

Over a hundred affected plot owners have so far filed formal complaints against Hall-Mark with Savar police, who have not yet moved for any legal action, she said.

Contacted several times at Hall-Mark’s head office for the company’s version, telephone operator Abdul Kuddus took note of the name and telephone number of this correspondent, saying Tanvir would call back if he wished to talk.

But nobody has called back yet.