Trees fall victim to SCC development work
Despite widespread criticism of cutting trees in the name of development, at least 200 trees were chopped down in the last couple of weeks at Sylhet city's Shahjalal Upashahar area.
The trees were cut down in different alleys, with no clearance from the Forest Department, and the local councillor sold them without holding an auction, which is against the law.
On top of that, Sylhet City Corporation asked for clearance from the Forest Department to cut more than a hundred trees standing tall by the area's main road for development work.
On October 20, environmentalists saved a decade-old tree from being chopped down by the corporation in Chowhatta area. Last month, authorities cut down at least five old trees on the city's Electric Supply Road.
On May 18, The Daily Star published a story titled "The green cost of development", which delved into tree felling by the corporation. In the report, SCC said it felled 332 trees in the last five years, while data showed that at least 873 trees were cut down. Even now, the corporation keeps on felling trees.
Visiting Shahjalal Upashahar recently, this correspondent found remains of the felled trees lying on the ground, while most of the timber had been carried away.
Development work, which includes expanding streets and constructing proper drainage, is ongoing there.
Aftab Chowdhury, a member of the district committee for forest, environment and climate change, said, "Many locals and I planted these trees back in the 90s. Each of them is worth around Tk 1 lakh."
"This is a clear violation of all existing laws," said Aftab, who had received a "Prime Minister Award" for planting trees. "I have filed a written complaint regarding this unlawful act to the ministry concerned and Forest Department."
In conversation, Saleh Ahmed Shalim, the local councillor, admitted to felling the trees without clearance and selling them without holding an auction.
"The actual number of felled trees will be between 20 and 25, and their price is not as much as the locals are claiming. If I waited for permission, the development project would have gotten delayed," he said, adding that he donated the money he got from selling the trees to local mosques.
He, however, could not say how much money was donated.
According to forest rules, any authority or individual must apply to the Divisional Forest Office for clearance to fell trees, and the office only gives permission if it is absolutely necessary.
The city corporation on October 17 lodged an application to the forest office, seeking permission to cut down trees on the main road,
and the Forest Department started inspecting prior to giving permission.
Toufiqul Islam, divisional forest officer in Sylhet, said, "When our team reached the area to inspect, we found that many trees were chopped down in the alleys, and no clearance was even sought for that."
However, he said the department will not be able to take legal action, as there is no relevant law in place.
Nur Azizur Rahman, chief engineer of SCC, said, "It is disappointing to see that trees are being felled without permission. We support environmental laws, but some people in the corporation are violating them, so we will take action."
Ashraful Kabir, coordinator of environmental organisation Bhoomishontan Bangladesh, said, "No one will take action against anyone, as this whole practice is run by a syndicate, which financially benefits from development projects. We strongly condemn such acts."