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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Hundreds of trees felled to widen roads in Dinajpur

  • Various species, including fruit trees, axed
  • Outrage as trees cleared beyond road expansion needs
Update : 08 May 2024, 11:24 PM

Amid widespread discussions on tree planting to mitigate rising temperatures, there is controversy as nearly 350 trees are being felled to facilitate the expansion of the Bochaganj-Kaharol road in Dinajpur.

The trees targeted for removal include various species, including mahogany, Jarul, Krishnachura, Bakul, Pakur and others. Even trees bearing seasonal fruits like mangoes, jackfruits and dates are not exempt from the felling.

Residents are visibly outraged, especially with Bangladesh experiencing its hottest April on record this year. They have expressed their discontent, noting that trees were being chopped down not only for the road expansion but also in areas beyond its immediate vicinity.

Roads and Highways Department officials say the trees were felled following a tender process initiated by the district administration. Meanwhile, the district administration says the trees were being cut down on the basis of a requisition. However, engineers could not explain the additional tree felling, said the chief executive officer of the district council.

Trees planted in 90s

According to authorities and locals, in 1990, the district administration planted various species of trees on both sides of different roads in Bochaganj and Kaharol upazilas.

For 34 years, these trees have served as sources of oxygen, shade, and fruit for the local populace, while also playing a role in preventing natural disasters. 

Not only for expansion, trees are being felled outside the area as well. May 8, 2024. Photo: Bangla Tribune

Tender process

But then came the Roads and Highways Department, which wrote to the district administration regarding road expansion.

Complying with the instructions spelt out in the RHD letter, the district administration floated tenders on February 4 for the sale of 299 trees in Bochaganj, including 49 mango trees and 27 jackfruit trees, which have borne fruit this summer.

Besides, there was another tender for other trees, including mahogany, Krishnachura, date palm, and raintree. 

On April 16, the district council issued a work order after floating the tenders for the felling of the trees in 10 lots, directing the contractors to remove them within 10 working days. They started felling the trees after receiving the work order.

On a recent visit to Bochaganj upazila, this correspondent saw that tree felling was underway at a brisk pace, with chopped-down trees being taken to sawmills on tractors. 

The trees that once provided shade are conspicuously absent, leaving the entire area barren, sparking public outrage.

Complaints

Upon seeing journalists taking pictures, local residents approached them, expressing their frustration and recounting their futile protests against the tree removal. 

They complained that some of the trees being knocked down were nowhere near the road, deeming the action unnecessary and requesting the authorities to cut down trees in winter, if unavoidable, rather than in summer. 

Azahar Uddin, a resident of the area, noted how he would walk in the shade of these trees to shield himself from the heat, saying he had no issue with the government cutting down trees if it did it methodically and in winter. 

“We do not have the authority to stop tree felling either,” he said.

Meanwhile, rickshaw puller Ali Hossain complained about facing difficulties in using the road because of the trees felled on it. 

“We are exposed to the elements out here. When there were trees here, I could stand beside the road and pick up or drop off passengers. It is unbearable for us under this scorching summer sun. This was not the right time to cut down trees.”

Arman Ali, another local resident, voiced concerns about the environmental impact of tree felling, saying it would impede the ability for people to breathe comfortably. 

“Considering how high the temperatures are right now, it would have been great had the plants still been there... There is nothing we can do if the government chops them down, but they do keep people alive,” he added.

Mofizul Islam from the same locality alleged that trees located 10 feet away from the road were being felled. 

"We have protested against the tree felling, but the contractor claims they are carrying out the task in line with the contract awarded to them. While the road is set to be widened by 3 feet and 6 feet, trees well beyond this range are also being cut down," he said.

Who is to blame?

Anwar Hossain, proprietor of the contracting company, M/s Anwar Enterprises, said his firm had secured the contract in adherence to government regulations and was felling trees as per the issued work order. 

In response to queries about complaints of excessive tree removal, RHD Deputy Assistant Engineer Rais Uddin said if such claims were accurate, clarification should be sought from the district council. 

Additionally, he mentioned that the road, currently 18 feet wide, would expand to 24 feet upon completion of the project.

Moklesur Rahman, chief executive officer of Dinajpur Zilla Parishad, said the requisition order for road improvement from the RHD had been issued before his tenure began. 

He noted that permission from the Forest Department had been secured prior to floating the tenders, acknowledging the complaints he had received about unnecessary tree felling. 

"I discussed this matter with the engineers concerned, but they were unable to provide a straight answer. If there are no issues with the road's surfacing, why resort to additional tree-cutting? I am eager to understand this," he said. 

"During our meeting, I insisted that the road expansion work should not be rushed. Only trees that are essential for felling should be removed. Other trees should be spared from chopping."

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