The structures built to facilitate tourism at the 82-acre Sal forest in Nawdabansh village in Lalmonirhat’s Hatibandha upazila have been lying unused for about five years now due to lack of necessary utility connections.
The authorities in 2015 constructed two changing rooms, one bathroom and 12 RCC concrete benches for visitors in the Sal forest under a Tk 1.80-crore project titled Bangladesh Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism Development, said officials of Lalmonirhat Forest Department.
According to local residents and tourists, these structures never came to any use as there was no electricity or water supply. The forest department was reluctant about getting the necessary connections, they claimed.
Mahfuz Shaju, who went for a picnic at the Sal forest with his family last month, told this correspondent how disappointed he was after arriving there.
“This is a vast forest frequented by tourists. But lack of facilities has turned it into a mere jungle,” said the 44-year-old man. “There is no water or cleaning facility,” Shaju vexed at the situation.
When notified about the claims, acting district forest officer in Lalmonirhat Mohammad Nurunnabi said three letters had so far been sent to the Forest Department’s Dhaka office seeking nod over getting power connections. “I sent the latest one in June but they are yet to respond,” he told this correspondent.
Locals alleged that substandard materials were used to build the structures and as a result, they are now decaying.
“Huge amount of public money was spent for the project. The Forest Department officials never took care of these structures,” said Mahbubur Rahman, a 55-year-old resident of Nawdabansh.
“Tourists from different areas come here only to get frustrated. They cannot use the rooms as there is no basic facility,” said Amir Hossain, 45, another resident of the village.
During a visit to the site last month, this correspondent found the structures in shambles. Chunks of plaster were coming off the walls, the water tank was not connected to the washroom.
Jahangir Alam, a guard at the forest, pointed out that there is no tube-well either in the zone, much to inconvenience of visitors.
Ashwini Kumar Basunia, chairman of Nawdabansh Union Parishad, said that his office took all the trouble to arrange water and electricity whenever government officials or VIPs came by.
“The union parishad bears all the costs then. I engage the Gram Police members to arrange water, furniture etc and install power generator,” he said.
About these claims, Lalmonirhat Forest Officer Nurunnabi said, “The project was implemented by the Dhaka office. We just supervised. I cannot make any comment over this matter.”
When contacted, Rangpur Divisional Forest Officer Motlubur Rahman said he visited the Sal forest in Lalmonirhat last week and saw how the structures were lying unused.
“We are taking up another project to turn the forest into a tourist spot. All necessary facilities will be arranged within the next six months,” said the officer.