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Sunday, July 11, 1999 Published at 02:57 GMT 03:57 UK

World: South Asia

Government accused over land handouts

Government says all members of parliament will get cheap land

By Dhaka Correspondent David Chazan

Anti-corruption groups in Bangladesh have protested about the awarding of plots of government land to supporters and members of the ruling Awami League party.

It is not the first time that a government in Bangladesh has been accused of rewarding its own supporters by allocating them land in urban development projects.

Human rights activists say it's been standard practice under both military rule and democratically-elected governments.

Those who have been allocated plots of land will pay far less than the market value.

Professor Mozafir Ahmed, of Transparency International, says the land has been handed out for political reasons. "There's absolutely no doubt about it. Otherwise, two thirds of the number of plots would not go to the political personnel.

"And this is not the right way of distributing urban land. This has happened under previous governments, under military dictators, but people expect the democratically-elected government to behave more responsibly," he said.

'Deserving cases'

The housing minister, Mosharraf Hossain, said the land had been awarded for the most deserving cases, but many of them are governing party members of Parliament.

He said at least three opposition members of parliament were among the 301 people allocated land out of 13,000 applicants.

He said all members of parliament would eventually get plots in Dhaka.

But his explanation is unlikely to silence the increasing criticism of what anti-corruption groups say is political patronage by the government.

In fact, questions are already being asked about why members of parliament should be given cheap government land at all.

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