Occupation of land by cutting downhills
At one time, the Rupaichhara government hill in Habiganj was about 500 feet high. However, it is now on the verge of extinction due to earth cutting and the felling of trees.
Locals alleged an influential group working behind the illegal hill cutting and sand extraction. Behind them is the patronage of one of the ruling party leaders. Locals, meanwhile, alleged that Department of Environment (DOE) officials and the local administration are playing a silent observer role in cutting down the hill.
According to the Rupaichhara Rubber Garden authorities, the total area of the garden is 794.39 hectares. There are 17 government-owned rubber plantations in the country. Of which four are in the Sylhet division, one of them is Rupaichhara in Habiganj.
Rubber garden authorities said that Muddat Ali, Former chairman of Putijuri Union Parishad and president of Habiganj District Weavers League, has illegally occupied about 7.6 hectares of garden land. In addition, several other sand traders have continued to illegally extract sand from the Soshanchhara River, which flows through the Rubber gardens.
Saddam Hussein, a resident of Rubber garden, said, “The gardens and hills are unprotected here as there are no boundary walls around it. Those who want to extract sand and cut down trees have made targets of the rubber garden in such a situation. Despite that, the authorities never took any action.”
Sadek Mia, a resident of Kalyanpur village, complained, “The hills are getting cut down every night. Muddat Ali already destroyed a 3-acre playground, a 4-acre rubber nursery on the east side of the field, and a 12-foot-wide earth road.”
In reply to a question, he said, “If privately owned hills could cut under the Sand and Land Management Act, I got the approval from the Ministry of Mineral Resources to extract soil and sand.”
Shah Shaheda Akhter, the Sylhet Divisional Coordinator of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said, “According to the Environmental Conservation (Amendment) Act-2010, cutting down hills is a punishable offense. No government, semi-government or autonomous body and the private landowner is allowed to cut downhills without prior permission of concerned authorities.”
Tofazzal Sohel, general secretary of the Habiganj chapter of the Bangladesh Environmental Movement, said, “The government has proposed to increase the forest cover by 20 percent of the country’s total land area by 2030. But surprisingly, every year, government hills are cut down with the help of government officials. “