Hill cutting continues despite legal action
Destroying parts of a hill, Zahurul Alam Jasim, a councillor of Chattogram City Corporation, has built a primary school in the city's Akbar Shah area.
He has also made some plots, cutting the hill, and sold them to low-income people. "I bought a plot from the councillor for Tk 3 lakh two years ago. Now, I'm building a house on this plot," said a land buyer, seeking anonymity.
As seen by our correspondent, right now, he is cutting three hills, which he claims to be his. However, without permission from relevant authorities, one cannot even cut their own hill. No such permission was issued for Zahurul.
This is not a one-off offence. The councillor has reportedly cut many other hills in the area and made large plots in the last seven years. Following all this, Department of Environment (DoE) filed three cases against Zahurul and his wife for destroying hills.
Zahurul is the joint convenor of North Pahartali ward of Awami League.
In January, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), was attacked by the councillor's followers while she was trying to inspect a site to confirm hill cutting in Akbar Shah, according to eyewitnesses.
After the incident, Rizwana filed a case against Zahurul with Akbar Shah police station.
Meanwhile, locals complained against Zahurul to Chattogram deputy commissioner and DoE for cutting hills in December last year.
Shafiqul Islam Khan, a local environmentalist, said Zahurul started cutting hills in 2014, and this activity is mainly managed by his associates.
But Zahurul denied everything and said political opponents are trying to frame him.
"I was elected as an independent candidate in the last CCC election and won as a councillor. My opponent, who was the candidate nominated by Awami League, has falsely accused me of cutting hills after losing the election. I have complained against them to the party's high command," he claimed.
Earlier, Bela filed a petition in the High Court against the ongoing hill cutting in the area in 2015. In this petition, DoE, deputy commissioner and Zahurul were made defendants.
In the petition, it was alleged that 10 acres of hills have been cut in North Pahartali Mauza of Akbar Shah area.
I was elected as an independent candidate in the last CCC election and won as a councillor. My opponent, who was the candidate nominated by Awami League, has falsely accused me of cutting hills after losing the election.
"A coordinated investigation into hill cutting in Akbar Shah is underway. Based on the investigation report, we will take legal action against the culprits," said Mia Mahmudul Haque, deputy director of DoE, Chattogram.
There were 200 hills in Chattogram four decades ago. Of those, 120 have already disappeared, according to a research paper of Chittagong University's forest and environmental science department, conducted by Dr Khaled Mesbahuzzaman, a teacher of the department.
CCC 'CUTTING HILL' TO MAKE ROAD
A hill in Beltalighona area of Akbar Shah has reportedly been razed under the direction of Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) to make way for a road. A landslide occurred at the site on Friday, which killed one and injured three.
During a recent visit to the area, this correspondent found authorities constructing the 1-kilometre road by cutting the hill that spans across Beltalighona to Baitul Aman Jame Masjid.
On Friday, a part of the hill adjacent to Agrani Housing collapsed onto the under-construction road.
In February, before the accident, a mobile court -- led by Assistant Commissioner (Land) and Executive Magistrate of Kattali Circle Omar Faruk -- inspected the site, and a man was sent to jail for illegally cutting the hills. The court instructed others to stop cutting hills as project authorities of CCC did not have environmental clearance.
Besides, DoE sent a letter to CCC authorities to inquire into the construction. CCC, however, has not yet responded to that letter, said DoE's Mahmudul.
According to CCC data, the road-construction project has a budget of Tk 2.68 crore and is financed by Asian Development Bank.
CCC Mayor Rezaul Karim Chowdhury on Friday admitted that the road was being constructed on the slope of the hill.
"We didn't know that the road was being constructed by cutting hills. However, an accident has occurred, and the inquiry committee is probing the incident. We will issue further instructions based on the inquiry report," said Sheikh Mohammed Towhidul Islam, chief executive officer of CCC.