Forest Department is felling some 1,221 fully-grown trees in the name of widening two roads in Dhaka’s Dhamrai, although any road expansion project is yet to be taken.
The trees -- on both the sides of Kalampur-Balia road and Mauna-Dhamrai road, stretching around 22km in total -- are being chopped down, sources said.
Forest officials said the trees were planted under social forestation programme, but could did not show any document in support of the claim.
They could not even say how many years ago the trees were planted. However, locals said most of them are 50 to 60 years old.
According to residents, most of the trees are mahogany and rain tree, and more than half of them have already been cut down in the last couple of weeks.
Talking about the issue to this correspondent, many became nostalgic and frustrated.
Intaj Ali from Batulia is very familiar with the greenery, as the trees have grown up in front of the 80-year-old’s eyes.
“The plants conserve beauty in the area,” he lamented.
“We used to walk to Kalampur Haat [a local market] along the road [Kalampur-Balia] under tree shade,” said the elderly man. “Now, the roadsides are turning into a desert.”
“The trees were planted after the road was made from clay. I was 18 or 20 at that time,” reminisced Intaj, who worked as a labourer in building the roads.
“I feel happy when I see those trees. But it breaks my heart when I imagine those will not exist anymore,” he said.
“We have nothing to say, as the government is felling the trees.”
Tara Miah, 70, a shopkeeper in Batulia, said he only heard about widening of the road. “But, we are yet to see any sign of such work,” he said.
Motaleb Al-Momin, Dhamrai upazila forest officer, told The Daily Star they started cutting the trees following multiple applications from Roads and Highways Department (RHD) that the roads will be widened.
He showed this correspondent two copies of the letters.
Motaleb said they leased out the trees to different buyers, at a total cost of about Tk 80 lakh after offering separate open tenders.
When asked under which project and how long ago those trees were planted, the forest officer said, “I have no details. So far I know those were planted under social forestation programme many years ago.”
When contacted, Nazrul Islam, sub-divisional engineer of RHD (Nayarhat branch), acknowledged the facts. The widths of the roads will be extended by seven feet on the both sides to turn those to regional standard highways, he said.
“We have designed the roads and will sent a project proposal to RHD headquarters within one month,” said Nazrul. “We hope the work will start in around seven to eight months,” added the official.
About feeling of those trees before the project is sent or approved, he said, “It will be good for us.” He did not give further details.
The trees are being sold at around Tk 6,522 each -- around five times less than the current market price-- causing a huge revenue loss.
Imran Hossain, 28, a local youth having experience in selling and buying such trees, said market price of each tree would be Tk 30,000-40,000 on an average.
This correspondent talked to five timber traders in Dhamrai and Savar. They echoed the same.
The Forest Department leased out 47 trees to a man named Abdus Salam for Tk 3.26 lakh including VAT and tax and this correspondent collected a copy of the paper.
Visiting the spot, labourers were found felling large mahogany trees. Jakir Hossain, one of them, said they worked for Abdus Salam and were cutting down the trees for a daily wage of Tk 600.
Contacted, Abdus Salam, the lease holder, said, “I have got lease as a high bidder.”
When asked about impact on the environment due to tree felling, Forest Officer Motalem Al-Momin said they will plant trees there again. Over the low price, the official refused to make any comment.
Dr Md Zahidur Rahman Miah, divisional forest officer of Social Forest Division in Dhaka, was not available over his official telephone.
Samar Krishna Das, assistant director (publicity) of Department of Environment, said the issue of social forestation is beyond their jurisdiction.
EXPERT DISCOURAGES DEFORESTATION
Prof Jamal Uddin Runu of environmental science department at Jahangirnagar University said trees can be felled for development work. “But, I think, in terms of cutting a large number of trees, they should take a five-year project to minimise environmental degradation.”
“During the period, 20 percent of trees will be felled each year and the same quantity or more new plants will replace those,” she suggested.
Prof Jamal emphasised an alternative to tree felling as those play a key role in protecting biodiversity.
The JU teacher said he wants the authorities concerned to consider the matter carefully before making further plans.