Rampant hill-razing destroys Banskhali’s eco-balance

Published : 01 Dec 2023 08:07 PM

Illegal construction is rampant in the Chamblee region of the eastern forest within Banskhali upazila of Chattogram. Hills are being recklessly razed, all while forest officials seemingly overlook these activities.

Currently, new houses are sprouting up daily on the hills of Jungle Chambal and Shilkoop areas, contributing to the destruction of trees and mountains.

Upon on-site inspection, it is apparent that numerous illegal structures are being erected by demolishing hillocks in East Chambal Ward No. 9.

Locals complain that influential individuals, allegedly supported by Range Officer Anisuzzaman Sheikh, have been illegally constructing structures by destroying the hills in Ward No. 9 of Ecopark and East Jungle Chambal and Jungle Napora.

This unchecked development not only results in the destruction of mountains but also poses a threat to the environment. Despite repeated coverage in various newspapers, authorities have yet to take any action against Forest Officer Anis. Locals claim that Anis is unlawfully occupying government spaces with impunity. 

Moreover, they allege that he, along with influential individuals, subjects locals to harassment and intimidation, instilling fear and preventing anyone from speaking out.

An anonymous individual in charge of Forest Bit expressed concern, stating that if their names were publicized, they would risk losing their jobs and facing difficulties in life. According to them, those engaged in mountain-cutting and tree-felling activities are associated with Anis Sheikh, communicating with him regularly, and competing for hills to build illegal settlements.

Serious allegations have been made against the official for destroying the Chambal, Napora, and Puichari hilly forest areas of Banskhali.

Workers from a sawmill in the Chambal area revealed that Anis Sheikh's influence extends to various sawmills in Shekerkhil, Chambal, and Napora, where hill trees are regularly inspected. They claim that Anis has connections with influential syndicates, making it nearly impossible for anyone to intervene. In contrast, ordinary people suffer torture, and the widespread clearing of the forest area leads to wild elephants entering the locality.

Responding to complaints from locals, the UP member and village police of the area took action to halt the construction of new structures. Despite being the responsibility of the forest officer to protect the forest area, Anis Sheikh is accused of encroaching on hills and forests within his control in Banshkhali. 

Mountains are continuously being cut, trees are felled, and new houses are built under his watch.

In response to these allegations, Range Officer Anisuzzaman Sheikh acknowledged the construction of new houses on hills and promised their eviction. However, as of Saturday, November 25, the newly built houses were not evacuated, and no action was taken against the encroachers. The lack of intervention raises questions about the role and accountability of officials in addressing these environmental concerns.

Kayes Sarwar Sumon, Chairman of Shilkoop Union, expressed ignorance about the situation and questioned whether it is his responsibility to protect the forest department or the responsibility of the forest officer.

Upazila Assistant Commissioner (Lands) Abdul Khalek Patwari said that if the Forest Department seeks cooperation to remove structures built illegally on their premises, assistance will be provided. Despite these assurances, the illegal structures remain untouched, and the environmental degradation continues.