Prison authorities in Rajshahi have been felling at least 561 trees, many of those a hundred years old, at a planted forest on its land behind Rajshahi Central Jail at Sipaipara area in the city, reportedly to build a training facility.
Ornithologists and environmentalists say felling of the huge number of trees would leave an indelible impact on the environment and varieties of birds including parakeets, storks and herons that nested on the trees over the years.
Officials of Rajshahi Central Jail have ordered a contractor to chop down the trees, mostly Koroi, Mahogany, Debdaru and tamarind, as soon as possible to make room for constructing the country’s first prisons training academy.
Over 50 labourers have already sawed down most of the trees, this correspondent saw while visiting the spot yesterday.
Labourers said they started the work five days ago.
Contractor Md Sumon said he purchased the 561 trees, put on auction by the jail authorities, for Tk 19 lakh.
“Felling of such a huge number of old trees will certainly leave an impact on the environment,” said Md Ashrafuzzman, divisional director of Department of Environment (DoE), when contacted.
He said there is no law making it mandatory for any government agency to take approval from DoE regarding felling of trees on their own land, adding that a district committee where DoE is a member makes the approval.
He, however, said since it is a matter of a large number of trees, permission should have been sought from DoE before going forward with it.
Prison authorities have decided to establish the country’s first ever prisons training academy in Rajshahi, said Altab Hossain, deputy inspector general of prisons in Rajshahi division.
As there was a planted forest on the land, jail authorities took opinion from the forest department and the concerned district committee for protecting the environment, he said.
When contacted, divisional forest officer Ahmed Niamur Rahman said they gave the permission as a number of ministries were pursuing it. “We allowed it considering the development initiative.”
“It will be an irreparable loss. A thousand newly planted trees cannot compensate for felling of just one hundred-year-old tree,” ornithologist Onu Tareq said.
He said the site was one of the few places of the city where people loved spending their leisure. Three kinds of parakeets – red-breasted, rose-ringed, and plum-headed, as well as Asian open-bill stork and black-crowned night heron nested in the trees.
He also said the explanation of prison authorities is a lame one. “It is not believable that they didn’t find any place other than the forest for establishing the academy. They are doing it for money from the sale of the trees.”
A number of environmental activists, under the banner of “Citizens of Rajshahi”, protested the decision in a human chain at the site yesterday afternoon.
Meanwhile in a late development, Jailer Habibur Rahman of Rajshahi Central Jail told The Daily Star around 9pm last night that the contractor has been asked to temporarily halt tree-felling, until authorities discuss the matter with protesters.