A Krishak League leader is felling hundreds of trees in Rajabarihat Dairy and Cattle Development Farm in Rajshahi taking advantage of the sale of dead and fallen trees at the state-run farm.
The pro-ruling party farmers' leader, allegedly with help of the farm manager, secured his bid for 731 dead and fallen trees for Tk 9 lakh. He had paid other bidders to back off to “win” the auction.
Instead of taking the marked dead and fallen trees from the 94-acre farm, he has been chopping down other trees in their hundreds.
So much so that on July 31, a person filed a complaint with Godagari upazila nirbahi officer that the state had lost Tk 50 lakh due to the illegal felling of over 500 alive trees in the last three months.
Some of the 92 staffers of the farm claimed that the number of illegally felled trees was around 1,800 and of babla (thorn mimosa), eucalyptus, sisu, koroi (frywood), and pakur (Indian tulip tree) varieties.
All of them requesting not to be named said upazila unit Krishak League general secretary Shafiul Karim, who goes by the name Emon Mondol, had employed about 70 labourers for felling the live trees.
They had been uprooting the trees and filling the hole in the ground with dirt to cover up their tracks. It was a 24/7 affair, they said.
They said Md Tofizul Islam, the farm manager, had been helping Emon and when they protested the illegal tree felling, Tofizul told them to be quiet.
Emon paid Tk 9 lakh on May 15 and was officially asked to take the dead and fallen trees within a month, they said.
But tree felling is still going on, the farm staffers said.
“Many of us [staffers] had taken care of these trees over the last 25 years. It hurts to see them chopped down,” an official told The Daily Star correspondent at the farm.
During a spot visit, this correspondent saw labourers cutting down trees and noticed a huge stockpile of logs and soil-filled spots on the ground.
The forest department on January 1 marked 388 sisu, 209 babla, 43 neem, 25 koroi, and 66 other trees as fallen or dead.
It valued the trees at Tk 8.52 lakh and on March 9, the farm authorities issued auction notice in a newspaper with poor circulation.
The first tender had to be cancelled due to issues with the tender committee, said Farm Manager Tofizul.
A second tender was floated on March 19 and there were 41 bidders. The farm chose three bidders who had offered between Tk 22 lakh and Tk 25 lakh for the dead and fallen trees.
But the bid winners backtracked and the authorities took the security deposit of the highest bidder and let the other two go unpunished, sources said.
In the third tender on April 23, Emon, who offered Tk 9.01 lakh, was selected.
Talking to The Daily Star, Emon admitted tender manipulation but refuted allegations of felling trees that had not been marked for removal.
He said in the second tender he was the highest bidder and that he had made the bid with a relative's name.
“I made other higher offering bidders understand that they are going to lose money making offers so high,” Emon told this correspondent over phone.
He said he paid several bidders of the third tender Tk 3.10 lakh in total so that they backed off and he could get the trees.
Emon said, “I advocate tree plantation … the allegation [of cutting down live trees] is false,” he said.
Farm Manager Md Tofizul Islam denied any wrongdoing. “I'm supervising the tree felling. How will they uproot unmarked trees?” he said.
He said he had no record of trees on the farm and that he was not documenting the felling of the trees.
When asked why he had ordered the trees to be uprooted, he said he asked so that the farm could plant trees there again.
On why he had awarded Emon the job in the third tender when he had backed off from the second auction, Tofizul said on paper, the winners of the second and third tenders were different people.
Godagari UNO Zahid Newaj on August 3 asked Upazila Forest Officer Shariful Islam to probe the matter.
“I need to discuss with seniors before beginning the investigation,” Shariful told The Daily Star, adding that the farm manager was an official a lot senior to him.