Hill cutting on - as city fathers sleep

hill cuttingHill cutting has long continued unabated in the port city, causing ecological imbalance and destruction to the scenic natural settings. According to a recent study, about 120 hills of varying sizes have disappeared completely in the last 33 years, resulting in landslides largely responsible for the deaths of one hundred people. The worst suffering areas of the unabated hill cutting are Khulshi, Panchlaish, Sholoshahar, Baizid Bostami, Foy's Lake, Lalkhan Bazar, Oxygen Intersection, Pahartali, Kattali and Polytechnic area.

Sources said unscrupulous people from various levels of society -- including local goons, influential political men, truck owners, contractors, brick kiln owners, real estate developers and even some concerned government officials -- are working together as a chained syndicate in the lucrative business of illegal and rampant hill cutting in the port city. Of them, the most powerful are the local 'mastaans' and influential political quarters operating behind the scenes, they said. Worse still, a government act promulgated in the early nineties to abate the hill cutting has, because of its many loopholes, helped further the illegal acts of the syndicate rather than discouraging them.

Various environmentalist groups, as well as members of civil society, have protested the destruction of the hills through rallies, processions, seminars and human chains. But their appeals seem so far to have fallen on deaf ears. The syndicates are now stretching their greedy grip to the proposed site of Asian University for Women (AUW), a multi-million dollar project on 104-acres of land near Bayezid Bostami for which Prime Minister Khaleda Zia laid the foundation stone in January last year. The university, which is to be funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at an estimated cost of Tk 1,000 crore, will be built on a scenic hill and house 2,000 students, following the pattern of the Thailand-based Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).

But the proposed site of AUW will be endangered if the criminal syndicates are not prevented from hill cutting in and around the proposed site, architect and urban planner Zarina Hossain expressed her concern. She said, "The hills in and around urban Chittagong are a unique gift of nature. Rampant and indiscriminate hill cutting to create flat sites for new housing and for other uses is destroying these."

"A flattened, subdivided plot is regarded by developers, real estate agents and individuals to be the only suitable site for construction. This poses a serious threat to the unique topography, ecology and visual richness of the hilly areas," she observed, urging the authorities concerned to take necessary measures to stop the rampant hill cutting in the site area and other parts of the city ( Daily Star, February 23, 2005).

Hill cutting going on unabated

Feb 25, 2005 : A vested group, despite the government ban on hill cutting have been carrying on the business of hill cutting in the district for seven years posing a threat to ecological balance and sound environment. The hilly picturesque of Chittagong has become a mere dream to the people. Major hills in the district and the city have already been distorted through hill cutting. The indifference of the concerned authority to take prompt actions against the perpetrators has encouraged the vested interest in continuing the hill cutting. The authority did nothing but to file cases against the hill cutters but no one had ever been arrested in this connection.

The Chittagong Development Authority filed 70 cases and the Environment Department 14 cases in connection with hill cutting. The two authorities appear to have completed their tasks by filing cases with no actions taken so far to nab the persons involved in hill cutting. The Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Chittagong Development Authority (CDA), in view of wide spread destruction of hills in the district through hill cutting, issued a circular recently prohibiting hill cutting in the district. It is learnt that seven categories of people including local goons, touts, influential political persons, truck owners, contractors, brick kiln owners, real estate developers and some government officials are involved in hill cutting.

A survey report submitted by Dr. Shahidul Islam, Professor of Geography Department of Chittangong University revealed that over one hundred hills had already disappeared completely during the last 30 years and nearly one hundred innocent people died in landslides caused mainly by hill cutting in the port city. The badly affected areas due to the unabated hill cutting are Khulshi, Panchlaish, Nasirabad, Pahartoli, Sholoshahar, Baizid Bostami, Foy's Lake, Lalkhan Bazar, Oxygen Intersection and Polytechnic areas. Besides, hill cutting is rampant at Silimpur under Sitakunda and Jungle Pahartoli under Hathazari Upazilas and some other parts in the district.

Besides, some dishonest persons and several syndicates have destroyed the hills in the adjoining areas of the lake after clearing trees on the hills. Moreover, some housing societies have already been established in the adjoining areas of the Foy's lake which poses a threat to the environment there. Abul Kalam, a local dweller said, once the hills of Foy's lake abounded with many monkeys which had their abodes in the trees on the hills.

Now the monkeys are hardly seen there as an organised syndicate named "Monkey Company" caught all the monkeys from the jungle for exporting those to foreign countries. He said that huge trees had been cut during last two months for developing the area. The local people alleged that many hills surrounding the Foy's lake had already been destroyed. Much of the lands had been grabbed by the local influential people. On the other hand, Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) authority illegally damaged the historical Deang Hill to make roads and plots for the proposed EPZ. According to sources, about 40 bulldozers and three scavators were engaged in cutting the historical Deang Hill as well as the equal number of rollers were engaged in levelling the soils on the hills.

Sources said, the state minister for forest and environment visited the KEPZ area last year and directed to stop the illegal hill cutting. But the hill cutting is going on unabated. Some 100 hills in and around the port city have already been levelled fully and partially threatening the environment (The Independent, February 26, 2005)..

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