The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) in Jessore has decided to fell 2,700 trees, many of those century-old, for the widening of Benapole- Jessore highway.
Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) at its meeting on March 21 discussed the necessity of cutting down trees on both sides of the highway to widen a stretch of 38 kilometres, as stipulated in a project. The meeting then approved the project that would cost Tk 323 crore, said sources at the RHD, Jessore.
However, there has been a strong reaction against felling age-old trees.
Matiur Rahman, chairman of port sub-committee of the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce, said the road-widening work was possible without cutting down the trees.
History says landlord Kali Poddar Babu in 1840 took the initiative to build a road from Jessore to Kolkata so that his mother could travel to take a bath in the Ganges river. A lot of saplings were planted on both sides of the road thinking of a way to make journeys of passers-by pleasant, as instructed by the landlord's mother.
It is not right to fell those trees, making widening of the highway as an excuse, Matiur said.
Rabiul Alam, a freedom fighter in Jessore, said the trees were witnesses to the country's Liberation War.
“Thousands of people as refugees passed though the road in 1971. The allied forces also came by this road,” he said, adding that the project work could be done without cutting down the trees.
Saibur Rahman Molla, chairman of the environment science department of Jessore Science and Technology University, said it would not be right to fell so many trees at a time.
Such an action would contribute to an increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the air and decrease oxygen. “If there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, it would have a negative impact on the environment,” Saibur said.
Jahangir Alam, executive engineer of Jessore RHD, said huge amounts of goods were transported regularly to different parts of the country from Benapole land port using the highway.
The highway has not been repaired for long and is now in a dilapidated condition. A scheme has been taken up for repairing the road, and to implement it nearly 2,700 trees have to be cut down, said the official of the RHD.
There is a complication, however, as both the district council and the Roads and Highways Department claim the ownership of the trees. The issue has been placed at the district coordination committee meeting.
The deputy commissioner informed the cabinet division of the matter. It was told in the cabinet division meeting that the ownership would be decided following an inter-ministerial meeting of the communications ministry.
The felling of trees would begin once the decision is made, Jahangir said.
Meanwhile, sources at the Jessore Zila Parishad said the RHD had decided to cut down the trees before the inter-ministerial meeting.
Engineer Nurul Islam of the Zila Parishad said Ecnec and the coordination division of the Planning Commission through a May 12, 2003 notification took the ownership of the highway from the Zila Parishad but didn't give it to any institution.
Saifuzzaman Pikul, chairman of the Parishad, said the highway's land belonged to the Parishad that was in charge of the overall development and maintenance of the highway and plantation on its both sides since the British period.
“Felling the trees to widen the highway should not be done.”