Hefty fines cannot deter offenders from cutting hills in Ctg

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Indiscriminate hill-cutting triggers calamities like landslides that claimed the lives of more than 230 people in Chittagong in the last decade

Hill cutting spree is continuing unabated in Chittagong region in spite of the ongoing intensified drives against the offenders.

Indiscriminate hill-cutting triggers calamities like landslides that claimed the lives of more than 230 people in Chittagong in the last decade.

According to the Department of Environment (DoE), 220 enforcement cases have been lodged in the Chittagong region from 2011 till January of this year, and a fine of around Tk6 crore was slapped on the violators during the period.

So far, a total of 292 cases have been lodged for cutting down hills in the Chittagong region. Of the total cases lodged, charge sheets were submitted for 113 cases and the remaining 179 cases are now under investigation.

According to urban planners, hills are mainly razed for constructing buildings, developing residential areas, and road networks.

The hills of the country are basically composed of unconsolidated sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, siltstone, shale, and conglomerate. The hills of the port city were formed in the early Cenozoic Era.

The master plan drafted for Karnaphuli River also mentioned that hills are razed in many areas of the city for constructing structures. Due to the unplanned razing of hills, the rainwater washes away sand-mixed soil from the hills and obstructs free flow of water in the canals.

AKM Rezaul Karim, chief city planner of Chittagong City Corporation, told Dhaka Tribune that a plan has to be formulated for conserving the existing hills of the port city.

“Hill cutting is a lucrative business since a truckload of soil is sold at Tk 15,000-20,000. If you can clear an acre of hill, you can sell it at a high price. So, hill cutting is unstoppable unless there is a land use plan,” said the urban planner.

Land use involves the management and modification of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as settlements and semi-natural habitats such as arable fields, pastures, and managed woods.

Muhammad Rashidul Hasan, a teacher at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning  of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET), told Dhaka Tribune that unsustainable use of land and rampant hill-cutting were two major reasons behind the landslide vulnerability in the hilly areas of Chittagong.

“Unlike other parts of the country, the hills of Chittagong region constitute of crumbling soil. It becomes vulnerable after heavy rainfall if the surface is not covered with vegetation,” he said.

Rashid also said the situation was becoming worse due to hill-cutting. “The slopes are cut at 70-80 degrees, which increases the risk of landslides,” he added.

As per the Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act 2010, hill cutting is a cognizable offence and no government, semi-government, or autonomous organization is allowed to cut or raze hills without prior permission from the authorities concerned.

Under the terms of Building Construction Rules 1996, a clearance certificate must be obtained from the Department of Environment for razing or cutting any hill.

Few major cases in the last couple of years

On February 12, the DoE fined Spectra Engineering Limited, a contracting firm, Tk5.23 crore for cutting hills at Sitakunda’s Salimpur area.

The contracting firm illegally razed 92,700 square feet of hills in Salimpur while implementing a link road project undertaken by Chittagong Development Authority.

On February 11 of this year, one SM Rashed Chowdhury was fined Tk20 lakh for razing hills.

On February 4 of this year, an individual named Nazim Uddin was sentenced to seven days of imprisonment for razing hills.

As a warning, on January 29 this year, the DoE has fined Tk10.38 crore to Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) for cutting hills in excess of the approved limit, and damaging biodiversity. 

In 2019, two leading Chittagong-based business groups – Kabir Steel Re-rolling Mills Ltd and PHP Float Glass Industries Ltd – were fined Tk5 lakh and Tk4 lakh respectively for flattening hills.

A UP Chairman of Jungle Salimpur area in Sitakunda was fined Tk5 lakh.

Realtors like Finlay Properties and Nasirabad Properties were fined with Tk14 lakh and Tk6.24 lakh respectively for leveling hills in 2019.

On January 29 in 2018, the DoE fined Khulshi Club Limited of Chittagong Tk2 lakh for illegally razing hills.