The Anti-Corruption Commission has prosecuted dozens of officials over irregularities in the construction and restoration of dams meant to protect backswamps from flooding in Sylhet’s Sunamganj.
As many as 61 persons, including officials of Bangladesh Water Development Board or BWDB and the contractor, have been named in the case started on Sunday.
The ACC said they have already arrested two of the suspects.
Md Afsar Uddin, a suspended BWDB engineer, Md Bacchu Miah, owner of ‘Messrs Ibrahim Traders and Shamim Ahsan’, were arrested in Dhaka’s Motijheel soon after the case was initiated with Sunamganj Sadar Police.
Efforts are underway to arrest the others, ACC spokesperson Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya told.
The ACC has also recommended disciplinary action against 13 government officials including Water Resources Secretary Zafar Ahmed Khan.
“There is a chance that these officials will be named in the case if the probe finds evidence against them,” said ACC Secretary Abu Md Mustafa Kamal.
These officials, he said, submitted a report for the BWDB on embankments in Sylhet, that failed to prevent flooding, in February of 2016, even though the deadline was for 10 days.
“We have recommended action against them because of negligence and failure to prevent flooding of Haors, which led to loss of crop, livestock and fish in 2017.”
The accused individuals were aware of the threat from annual flooding but plotted together to violate the main contract, said the ACC official.
“The contract ordered contractors to finish constructing dams for 84 incomplete packages from the 2015-16 financial year. No bidding took place and the old contractors were given new works in 160 packages in 2016-17 fiscal.”
“The accused intentionally created the opportunity for future embezzlement of project funds by not starting work on nine of the new packages and by partially completing 151 packages.”
Flash floods in March submerged swathes of crops, especially Boro rice, in the Haors or shallow wetlands in Sunamganj, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona and Brahmanbarhia.
The devastation was blamed on corrupt officials and contractors who showed negligence in building or fortifying dams, harming around 19,840 hectares and more than 800,000 families that rely on the land for livelihood, according to the government.
The issue stirred up anger among activists who held several media briefings in the capital.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her Apr 30 visit to Sunamganj, promised measures over possible negligence.
President Md Abdul Hamid also visited the flooded backswamps of his hometown Kishoreganj, one of the affected districts.
The ACC began investigating in April over reports that millions were embezzled from funds for 28 embankments that were never built in Sunamganj.
ACC Director Md Belal Hossain headed the three-member committee to investigate the allegations.
As probe continued, the BWDB suspended Sylhet Superintending Engineer Md Nurul Islam Sarker, Additional Chief Engineer (North-east Region) MD Abdul Hai and Sunamganj Executive Engineer Md Afsar Uddin.
The May 4 questioning of top BWDB officials revealed “huge negligence” on the part of the agency, ACC Director General Muhammad Munir Chowdhury had said.