Lives, environment, ecology at risk as illegal hill cutting still rampant in Khagrachhari
Unabated hill cutting in eight upazilas under Khagrachhari district is posing serious threat to lives, natural environment and biodiversity of the hill district.
As hill cutting continues in the name of development work, houses and business centres are being made ignoring existing environmental laws and defying ban by Department of Environment (DoE).
At least 50 thousand people in hill district Khagrachhari are facing threat of hill slides at the onset of the rains as they built their houses, business centres and other development structure cutting the natural hill and without any environment friendly plan, sources said.
Divisional Forest Office (DFO) and District Agriculture Extension Office (DAEO) sources said, despite a government ban, illegal hill cutting continues unabated in different parts of hill district Khagrachhari posing serious threat to lives, natural environment and biodiversity of the hill districts. Taking illegal help from government officials groups of influential people including a section of dishonest businessmen are involved in illegal hill cutting, sources said.
In Khagrachhari, hill cutting is a common sight at Shalban, Comilla Tila, Sabujbag, Panchmile area, Zia Naghor, Boghiroth Para, Rashiknagor, Jamtali, Maischhari, Maidda Karallachhari, Bichitala, Kengalchhari, Tongthakpara, Khagrapur, Kamalchhari, Bhuachhari, Golabari, Laxmichhari, Ramghor, Matiranga, Khagrachhari College Para area, Tetultala and No-1 Kadamtali area.
Several government establishments are now dangerously exposed to collapse during the rainy season due to the hill cutting.
Local environmental activists and journalists filed several general diaries with police stations in Khagrachhari hill district in regard to hill cutting. But the administration is taking minor initiative to protect the hills from depletion.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) issued legal notice to secretaries of three ministries for taking immediate actions against the plunderers of hills in last year, sources said. The ministries are environment and forest, land and public works.
In last year, Bela also issued notice to divisional commissioner of Chittagong, deputy commissioner of Khagrachhari, environment departments in Dhaka and Chittagong, SP of Khagrachhari and UNO of Dighinala upazilla in this regard.
In Khagrachhari hill district, this syndicate employs a number of day labourers in hill cutting in different areas in the districts paying Tk 150 to 200 per day as wages. Plunders always cutting hill which created bad impact for the environment, It damaged property, lives, filled up river, canals, create flash flood in the areas, said Abu Daud Muhammad, Member Secretary of local organisation 'Parivesh Surokkha Andolon'.
Chenghi and Mainee rivers in the district have become filthy due to hill erosion, local journalist and environment worker Omar Faruk Shamim said.
“We have recently submitted a proposal to district administration to save water bodies and hills,” he said.
The unscrupulous businessmen supply hilly soil to fill up canals and low lands for constructing houses and markets in the districts and as well as Chittagong city and its adjacent areas, said Mohammad Khalilur Rahman, secretary of Parivesh Andolon Forum.
"Soil supply has become a profitable business among the hill cutters as they need only a little investment for a huge profit. A truck of hilly soil is sold at Tk 700-1000, said Tazul Islam, a truck driver from Bazar area under Sadar upazila in Khagrachhari district.
Hill cutting causes landslides in rainy season in eight upazilas in Khagrachhari hill district which decreasing soil fertility and damaging life and property in the districts, said Khagrachhari Additional Deputy Commissioner Masud Ahmed.
Divisional Forest Officer Ali Kabir said, many hilly areas are facing an unexpected danger, at any time any accident would might happened causing harm for people and properties. An integrated approach is necessary for saving environment of natural hilly areas, he said.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Shahdat Hossen said he has taken many initiatives to save hills. He has already formed a six-member committee to survey actually how many people are vulnerable in the district. His officials filed at least 21 cases against hill plunders and four people are in jail now, he said.
“I have sent show cause notice to many people including government organisation Roads and Highways Department to explain why they have been cutting hill without permission from Department of Environment.