Logging stopped following protest

Timber merchants are felling century-old raintrees along the Jessore-Jhenidah Highway at Kaliganj. They claim to have “permission from Roads and Highways Department and a High Court order that clears their way for the plundering”. The photo was taken on September 27 this year.Photo: STAR

Villagers and civil society members are protesting government-sanctioned felling of age-old trees, which they consider as part of their heritage, along several highways in Jessore.
Over hundred years old and up to 20 feet in diameters, the 49 rain trees were sold to loggers by the executive arborist of Roads and Highways Department (R&HD), Rajshahi between 2002 and 2003 after classifying those as “hazardous”. The sale was executed through tender bidding.
But after felling 20 giant trees then, the loggers had to stop their work in the face of public protest. Most recently they have returned with a High Court (HC) order dated November 2, 2009, which permitted execution of the official work orders, specifically, “to cut down dead and risky roadside trees.”
People from all walks of life have now raised their voices against felling of centenarian trees. Jhenidah Poribesh O Jibboychittra Shanrakkhan committee, Hunger Free World, and people under the banner of Kaligongbashi formed human chains and held rallies in protest of the tree felling in Kaligong and Jhenidah on September 17 and 18.
Shajon Shanga, Patriot Jessore, Ulashi Shrijoni Shanga and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer Association (Bela) formed human chain and held rallies in protest of the tree felling in Jessore on September 29.
Dr Khalukuzzaman, a naturalist and also the professor of Environmental Science at Khulna University, said that it is everybody's duty to preserve the centenarian trees.
“If the trees become risky to human life, authorities should trim the burdensome branches and let them live. But cutting the whole tree is unacceptable,” Khalukuzzaman said.
The trees are dotted along the Jessore-Jhenidah, Jessore-Benapole and Meherpur-Chauadanga highways. According to archive, one Kali Babu planted the rain trees between 1830 and 1840 along the Jessore-Kolkata road.
Azizul Haque Moni, executive director of Ulashi Shrijoni Shanga, termed the trees “heritage” and said “We shall not let them cut the trees, which we have admired for generations.”
Protesting villagers alleged that the contractor has earmarked healthy trees for logging, instead of dead ones.
Zakir Hossain, assistant arborist of R&HD in Khulna, said that they had to abide by the HC directive. “We have handed over the work order of trees along Jessore-Jhenidah road which have been sold to the contactors following the court directive,” Hossain said.
Enamul Kabir of Kholadanga village under sadar upazila, Moniruzzaman of Jessore, Abu Bakkar Siddiq of Chuadanga obtained the HC order to execute the work orders of felling down 49 roadside trees, sources said.
Enamul Kabir told The Daily Star that they followed all official procedures to obtain the work orders. “We are not doing anything illegal. We have waited for so long after investing our money in the tender,” he said.
Locals alleged that during the tenure of BNP-led government, contactors had cut down 87 roadside trees in Meherpur showing the papers for 37 trees.
Although the executive arborist's office under the Ministry of Communication sold the trees, the district council under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development claims that the trees belong to them. Several ministerial level meetings were held to resolve the dispute but no headway was made, sources said.
Javed Ahmed, chief executive officer of Jessore district council, said the entire tender process of the executive arborist's office in 2002 was dodgy.
“The trees belong to the district council and had we been made a party in the High Court, the contractor could never win the case,” Ahmed said.


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