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Ruling party men’s trade with illegal gas link

By Special Correspondent
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At least three lakh gas connections have been given in areas of Sonargaon, Rupganj, Bandar, Gazaria Upazila and Gazipur illegally  by some ruling party men in connivance  with a section of corrupt officials of Titas Gas. Around 20,000 households are consuming gas illegally only in four upazilas of Narayanganj district. Some lines were seen hanging dangerously overhead, media reports said adding the ruling party leaders and Titas Gas officials are behind it.   Those who have taken the connections had to grease the palms of some important ruling party men as well as employees of Titas Gas.  In the process they have earned at least Tk. 300 crore, reports said.These connections have not only deprived the government of huge revenue, but it has also deprived formal users from getting connections or required pressure on their supply line. These connections also pose a threat to the households and the locals, as the technical quality and the laying of the distribution lines  do not fulfil  the required standard, reports said. Households irrespective of their political leanings got the connections ahead of the January 5 elections, witnesses told the media. In Mongoler Gaon village under Sonargaon upazila, about 200 households got the connections for Tk 35,000-45,000 each.The AL leaders and contractors made categorical assurance to those who  have taken the connections that the lines would be legalised soon, reports said. Others said getting the legal connection from Titas takes months -- a fact  which Titas officials did not differ. The AL leaders and contractors told the people  that the bills would have to be paid to Titas once the lines are legalised.Late last year, the government legalised nearly one lakh illegal gas lines that had been obtained after the government stopped giving new connections in mid-2010.  At present, the daily gas supply in the country is 2,250 million cubic feet, with a daily shortfall of around 500 mmcf. The restriction on new connection was imposed due to this deficit.The local AL leaders started making  money through giving these illegal connections during the political turmoil in October-December last year, it is alleged. Titas officials blamed politicians and contractors for the dangerous and illegal business.Syed Mojibur Rahman, a member of Pirojpur union admitted  of having  some roles in getting connections but denied taking any money. "As a local representative, I want that people get gas connections. The government should legalise them," he  told the media. Mozammel Hossain, vice-president of Union Jubo League, said, "The government should now regularise them."When the Titas authorities came to know about the illegal connections a few months ago following media coverage, they sent several teams to disconnect the lines. But they had to go back in the face of strong resistance from the local people. one Titas  official said."Recently, we disconnected a number of lines in a village in the presence of a magistrate. The villagers encircled us and we had to restore the connections before we were allowed to leave the area," a Titas Gas official  told the media. A general manager of Titas had to be hospitalised  recently after one such attack, he said.  The regional office of Titas has provided connections to about 850 household connections since May last year, with about 17,000 applications under process. It serves 40,000 households, 132 commercial establishments and 378 factories. Explaining the contractors' role, Petrobangla Chairman Prof Hossain Mansur told the media  that the local politicians enlisted some former contractors, who have expertise, to help them out in the lucrative business.   There are about 200km illegal lines including those in Narayanganj taken from Titas, he said, adding: "In the past, we disconnected some lines, only to find later that those were reconnected." Regarding involvement of Titas officials in illegal connections, Mansur said: "I am not saying that Titas officials are not involved . But we do not have any proof against any official. We will use the existing laws that allow the magistrates to punish the wrongdoers." Meanwhile, police, with the help of Titas Gas office in Manikganj, have arrested three people in Dhamrai for their alleged involvement in installing illegal gas distribution lines. They were sent to jail, said Titas Gas Spokesperson M Shahjahan, adding that their officials disconnected 200 feet of illegal lines there.Meanwhile, in a drive against illegal connections in Chandra Zone, Gazipur, some hundred connections were snapped on Monday. The  drive against illegal connections,  Executive  Magistrate of Gazipur,  Hakim Badruddoza  said, would continue and legal actions  would be taken against those involved in illegal trade. Manager of Titas Gas, Chandra Zone Saiful  Islam   said that  the authorities would remove the illegal lines if those were not removed by the users themselves.  The question which is being raised  is what the authorities were doing when the illegal connections were being given as it did not take place in  a day.   Had there been no involvement of Titas officials and some ruling party leaders, such connections could not have been given to huge number of people. Though the authorities were now talking of disconnections but they would have to depend on local administration to conduct the drives, informed circle said. If the objective behind the drive is sincere, they said, the drive against illegal connections need to continue to protect national  resources  on the one hand and security consideration on the other, as the unauthorised connections do not fulfil the required  security  standard.

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