Destruction of hills and forests: cutting of hills does not stop even after imposing fines, cutting of hills with fines is ‘permissible’
By Zeba Tarannum
The government of Bangladesh has taken various steps to protect the country’s natural environment and various natural sectors. Along with the government, environmentalist and social organizations are also working.
But in the midst of all this, the destruction of hills, forests and destruction of nature is going on. Influential people are doing their job in various ways. However, the government has reduced a lot. The media has been reporting on all these issues.
Among the people involved in cutting down the hill, the political leaders, Upazila chairman, Union Council chairman, members and influential local people are also included.
A hill was being cut in Fulchori of Khutakhali, Chakaria for more than a year. The Department of Environment of Cox’s Bazar inspected on last January.
Mahbubul Islam, an inspector of the department, reported that 2 lakh 8 thousand cubic feet of hills were cut down (10 lakh = 1 million). Later a fine of Tk. 3 lakh was imposed. At that time some hills were 20 feet high. Later, the Upazila Land Office imposed a fine of Tk.20,000 by setting up a mobile court on the same place for the crime of cutting down trees.
Then on July 22, 2020, Inspector Mahbubul Islam again went for inspection. It was then reported that 1 lakh 60 thousand cubic feet of the hill had cut down and levelled the place.
Defendant requested re-investigation of the matter. Later on October 10, 2020, Sanjukta Das Gupta, Assistant Director of the Forest department, went to Khutakhali and saw a building had constructed by cutting the hills and levelling it there. The accused are all influential people and are known to be the followers of local MP Zafar Alam.
There are examples of the destruction of hills or forests after paying fines in different areas including P.M.Khali and Khurushkul of Cox’s Bazar. Hundreds of individuals and organizations have fined in the last year for cutting downhills in different parts of the district. But they are cutting the hills again after paying fines. As a result, in most cases, the hills could not protect. A large part of the people involved in these environmentally destructive activities is political leaders, Upazila chairman, Union Parishad chairman, UP members and influential local people.
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change held on October 9; it informed that 59,471 acres of forest land had evicted in Cox’s Bazar, which is the highest in the country. Total 2 lakh 87 thousand acres of Forest have been occupied all over the country. Md. Jafar Alam the MP of Chakaria, Cox’s Bazar is the member of this Standing Committee. There are also allegations that he indulges those involved in cutting down the hills.
MP Zafar Alam told a national daily, “Is there any chance of giving another notice after imposing a fine of Tk. 1 or 2 lakh? No more hills were cut in Khuntakhali. However, some hills have been cut in many places to provide soil to the ongoing construction of railway line. And since here I am the head of the team. So if anyone in the team does such a thing, his responsibility falls on me. Apart from that, I am also a member of the parliamentary standing committee.”
The hill-cutting festival originally started centring the Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Ghumdhum railway line. It has the permission of the Department of Environment to cut the hill to a specific size if it falls in the path of the railway line. But at this opportunity, influential local people are constructing installations by cutting and levelling the hills as well as selling the soil.
From Cox’s Bazar the Adarsha village of Khurushkul Union starts. The major part of the hill, which is about 60 feet high and 150 feet long, has been destroyed by cutting down the trees. Besides, hills are being cut indiscriminately in different places including P.M. Khali, Islampur, Ukhia, Chakaria, Satkania and Lohagara in Chattogram. After a short distance away from Khuruskhul Adarsha village, there is New Ghona Para. The hill, which is about 160 feet high and 500 yards long, has been cut and levelled. Md.
Islam, Nurul Alam Bahaddar and some others have accused of cutting the hill.
P.M. Khali Union is adjacent to Khurushkul. Sheikh Kamal Member and Babul are cutting the hill here. The 70-foot high hill has already destroyed. Beside it in Chowdhury Para, a part of another 50 feet high hill has disappeared in the last two months. A chicken farm has set up there—complaint against a person named Shahabuddin.
Mohammad Moazzam, Director of the department of the environment by expressing his doubt whether there would be any hills in Cox’s Bazar in the future, some hills are allowed to cut to a certain size for the railway project. But with this opportunity, everyone is engaged in cutting down the hill. He said, ‘Everyone involved is influential. I have given fines and notices to several public representatives. We have been put under pressure in many ways.’
The High Court has given rules to prevent cutting of hill, hillocks and hilly forest of seven Upazilas of Cox’s Bazar and to protect the beaches. In a rule given in the preliminary hearing of a writ petition of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), it has asked why the hills, hilly forests, hillocks were not instructed to protect from any change, transformation, cutting. The Cabinet Secretary, Environment Secretary and 22 other respondents have asked to respond to the rule.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, the Executive director, BELA, told a national daily that it is important to arrest the main culprits than arresting workers involved in deforestation. As well as ensuring proper enforcement of the law, and it will not stop unless exemplary punishment is given to one or two hill cutters. Fines are not enough.
Acquired with a fine
The Department of the Environment has ended its responsibility by conducting a campaign against deforestation. It is also filing a case in the environmental court. It has seen that fines have been imposed several times for cutting down the hills in the same place. Those who are cutting down the hill have continued to cut down again with fines. The entire hill once turned into flat land.
Sheikh Nazmul Haque, deputy director of the environment department in Cox’s Bazar, said, “Many people think that with the fine, they have got legitimacy. They started cutting down the hill again. We have to work hard to stop them.’
This is how the hill of Fulchari in Khuntakhali was cut and levelled.
Md. Sarwar Master, Abdus Salam, Hasanul Islam alias Adar and some others accused of cutting the hill.
A year ago, Abul Kalam, the chairman accused of cutting down 1.2 million cubic feet of hills in the Napitkhali area of Islampur in Cox’s Bazar Sadar. He was then given notice, and the matter was re-investigated in light of the respondent’s application. Later he was fined Tk.10 lakh last month. But in the meanwhile, the whole hill has been uprooted, and the building has constructed there.
The nationwide lockdown began on March 26 for Covid-19. At that time, the work of the Department of Environment was somewhat firm. But the cutting of the hill did not stop. Since January, the department has identified 52 hill cutting sites. Last year it was 105
The hill in Jalia Baper Para area of Khurushkul started to be cut last year. Until November 25, 2019, 75,000 cubic feet of hills had cut down. A case was filed for this. Again, till January 26, 2020, there is evidence of cutting 90,000 cubic feet of hills.
The department has got the involvement of local Yusuf, Kaiser and Ziabul and fined them. But the hills did not survive.
After that, on October 13, by visiting the Jalia Baper area, it was seen that one side of the hill is now completely disappeared. The plants have cut down.
There is an allegation against an organization called Tama Construction for cutting down two hills in Lohagarh Chunati of Chattogram. They are working to fill the soil in the railway project. The Department of Environment has given them notice. However, Tama’s project manager has claimed that the hill is being cut in the approved part.
Professor Mohammad Kamal Hossain of the Department of Environment and Forestry, University of Chattogram told a national daily, hills or forests can never be protected by imposing fines. Strict steps have to take against this heinous unauthorized task. With fines, these criminals thing they have gained legitimacy. People’s representatives and influential people are involved in the destruction of forests and hills. Rohingyas are also involved in this.
Abul Kalam, chairman of Islampur Union Parishad, Cox’s Bazar fined Tk.10 lakh for cutting down the hills.
Apart from this, there are allegations against Ramu Rashidnagar’s Chairman Md. Shah Alam, Awami League leader Humayun Taher Chowdhury alias Himu, Ramu Khuniapalang Union Chairman Abdul Mabud, Mithachari Chairman Yunus Bhutto, Chakaria Upazila Chairman Fazlul Karim Sayedee for illegal cutting of hills and sand extraction, and at least 50 public representatives and political leaders, including Dulahazara UP chairman Nurul Amin, Chakriya’s Fasiakhali Union Chairman Gias Uddin and UP member Gias Uddin, have been accused of the desolation of hills and forest.
The Department of Environment has charged Fazlul Karim Sayedee, Upazila Chairman, Chakaria for illegally extracting sand, cutting down trees and filling canals in 10 acres of land in the Paglir Beel area of the Upazila. Nurul Amin, UP chairman, Dulahazara is also involved in this.
When asked, Fazlul Karim said, ‘I have the documents for sand extraction. They (Department of Environment) may not have got it. Besides, the canal has already been filled due to lack of water.’
Gias Uddin, chairman of Chakaria Fansiakhali Union Parished, is accused of cutting down hills and trees for making brickfield. The Department of Environment has fined the G L B Bricks Manufactures of Chakaria under his ownership of Tk. 3 lakh. Besides, in 2014 for a case filed by the forest department for deforestation, the court sentenced Gias Uddin to six months imprisonment and fined him Tk. 10,000.
Gias Uddin told, ‘The brickfield is closed now. And I don’t remember the case.’
When contacted, local MP Zafar Alam said, “There was a complaint against Gias about brickfield. I don’t know if there is anything else. And the Upazila chairman (Sayedee) has taken permission to extract sand from one area but has extracted from another area.’
MP Zafar Alam is the president of Chakaria Upazila Awami League whether Sayedee is the vice president and Gias Uddin is the general secretary.
The Department of Environment also gave Jahangir Alam, Vice Chairman of Ukhia Upazila and Shah Alam, UP Chairman notices for cutting down the hills. Ukhia’s Taingkhali area UP member Nurul Haque, BCL leader Ali Ahmed, influential local Md. Alamgir Farhad, Shah Alamgir and Farid Alam accused of cutting down hills and deforestation.
Abdul Awal Sarkar, chief forest conservator, Chattagram said many people had occupied forest land. In many places, trees and hills have cut down. Cases and fines are being levied in mobile courts. The northern forest division of Cox’s Bazar has evicted the most.
Source: Green Page