A staggering 4,000 trees, planted under a social forestry project, are being cut for the expansion of Hemayetpur-Manikganj-Singair regional highway, amid allegations of flouting the rules and depriving the beneficiaries of the project.
Around half of the trees have already been felled.
The market value of these trees is at least Tk 5 crore but Manikganj Zila Prishad has sold those for less than Tk 1.5 crore, alleged officials of Proshika Human Development Center, and its association members assigned to take care of the trees.
As part of the social forestry programme, 10 thousand tree saplings were planted beside the regional highway under the initiative of Proshika Human Development Center in 1991, said Mohidur Rahman, coordinator of Proshika's Singair upazila office.
“Four thousand trees including mahogany, koroi, shishu, eucalyptus and epil-epil survived till now, each worth Tk 10 to 20 thousand, according to the present market price. But the zila parishad sold each tree for Tk 3,675 on an average, causing huge losses for the government, Proshika and its beneficiaries,” he said.
After taking lease of the land from Singair Upazila Parishad, one thousand members of ten associations of Proshika planted the trees.
“As per the condition of the government's social forestry programme, the members of Proshika's associations will get 65 percent of the profits for taking care of the planted trees. Proshika will get 20 percent and the upazila parishads concerned 15 percent,” said Proshika's Chief Executive Kazi Khaje Alam, then director of Proshika's Social Forestry Programme.
To cut or sell the trees, it is mandatory to inform and take opinion of Proshika, its association members and Upazila Parishad authorities as the implementing agency, he said.
Azimpur Nabajagaran association's members Moslem Uddin, Bachchu Mia and Garadia Samata Mohila association's member Momena Begum and members of Proshika's different associations said they have been maintaining the trees for the last 27 years.
Although 65 percent of the profits were theirs, they were not informed about cutting their trees and no money was given to them yet, they said.
The trees were sold for lower than the market price and the chairman and officials of the zila parishad are taking financial benefits from it.
Manikganj Roads and Highways Department sources said the 31-kilometre-long regional highway is 17 feet wide and it will be expanded to 28 feet.
Manikganj Zila Parishad office sources said the parishad invited tender on November 6 last year as decision was taken to sell the trees for widening of the regional highway.
According to the tender, 3,725 trees were sold under 28 packages, at the highest bid of tender price of Tk 1 crore 36 lakh 14 thousand 139.
Singair Upazila Parishad Chairman Abidur Rahman Roman said, “According to the agreement, the upazila parishad, Proshika and its beneficiaries are owners of the trees. But zila parishad sold the trees for much lower that the market prices.”
“We informed the zila parishad office to take necessary action in this regard. If there is no solution, Proshika will take lawful action,” said Kazi Khaje Alam, chief executive of Proshika.
Zila Parishad Chairman Golam Mohiuddin said, “If Proshika and the members of its associations are entitled to get the share of the sale, they will be given it after verification.”
Asked about the sale of the trees at a lower price than the market price, he said, “The matter of selling the trees was notified in national and local newspapers. The tender was conducted following the rules and the trees were sold at the highest rates.”