Unabated hill cutting is posing a serious threat to the environment in Haripur of Jaintapur upazila, an area rich in mineral resources.
Hills and hillocks are being levelled in the pretext of making space for constructing buildings but the red soil is being sold instead to be used for filling up rivers, ponds and lowlands in the area.
Locals said that some influential people are involved in the process. They expressed anger and frustration at the inactivity of the local administration, forest department and police.
Many are cutting hills in the area in the cover of darkness.
Alkas, a local Awami League leader, said hills are being razed to fill up low-lying land in the area. “I’m currently cutting down the hillocks of freedom fighter Manik Mia and Rahim. I’m looking for another hillock,” he said, asking the UNB correspondent not to write about the matter.
Section 6 (Kha) of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 prohibits cutting and/or razing hill and hillocks. They can be cut or razed in national interest with the permission of the Department of Environment.
The maximum penalty for illegal hill cutting is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of Tk 10 lakh.
Bela moved the High Court in 2011 to stop hill cutting in six upazilas of Sylhet. After prolonged hearings, the court on March 1, 2012 declared the cutting of hills and hillocks illegal.
Abdul Hye Al Hadi, a local environmental activist, said a large number of hills and hillocks in Sylhet’s northeast were destroyed during the development of the Sylhet-Tamabil Highway in 1996.
“The ecological balance will be at stake if the existing hillocks are cut down. The area will be prone to landslides after incessant rainfall or earthquakes,” he explained.
Shah Shaheda of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) concurred. She said people who are cutting down hills defying the High Court’s order should face legal action.
Nahida Parvin, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Jaintapur, declined to comment on hill cutting, saying that she had joined only recently.