The Department of Environment (DoE) has fined 51 individuals and companies with a total of Tk4.50 crore for cutting hill illegally in greater Chittagong area in last six years.
However, the government’s environment watchdog could realise only Tk1.42 crore out of the total fine.
Md Bodrul Huda, assistant director (Technical), DoE Chittagong region, told the Dhaka Tribune that the individuals and the enterprises were penalised as per Section 7 of the Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act 2010 for damaging ecology and degrading environment through hill cutting.
At least 227 people were killed by landslides in Chittagong in the past 10 years.
On June 13, in the latest episode of monsoon landslides, at least 127 people were confirmed dead in Rangamati, Chittagong and Bandarban.
In 2012, steel manufacturing conglomerate BSRM Group was fined with Tk40.5 lakh for cutting hills at Sitakunda area. On February 13 in 2013, the DoE penalised Abul Khair Group with Tk4.5 lakh also for hill cutting in Sitakunda area.
Sitakunda has borne the brunt for the most cases of hill cutting in Chittagong. Four brick kilns, six individuals and six enterprises were fined for cutting hills in the area.
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Muhammad Rashidul Hasan, assistant professor at the department of urban and regional planning of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET), said 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 and become vulnerable after a heavy rainfall if the surface is not covered with vegetation,” he explained.
“The soil becomes heavy after absorbing rainwater and the steep slopes cannot bear the mass weight of the wet soil or mud, resulting in landslides.”
The situation is aggravated by hill-cutting, Rashid added. “The slopes are cut at 70-80 degrees, which increases the risks of landslides.”
A total of ten brick kilns were fined with Tk1.34 crore for hill cutting, including MEB Bricks Industries, Chittagong Bricks, MS National Bricks, Ms EBM Bricks, Ms MBF Bricks (Maa Bricks), Ms Badsha Bricks, Ms ABM Bricks, Chittagong Bricks & Clay Works Ltd, FM Auto Bricks and Modern Bricks.
According to the DoE, a total of 53 cases were filed in the last 10 years. Six of the cases were disposed of and 10 cases are currently in trial while 37 cases are under investigation.
As per the Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act 2010, no one can cut or raze hills. No government, semi-government or autonomous organisation or person can cut or raze hills without prior approval of the authorities concerned.
According to the law, hill cutting is a cognisable offence and the punishment for cutting or razing hills is severe. The person or organisation shall face two years’ imprisonment or be fined with Tk2 lakh or both. If the offence is repeated, the person or organisation shall face 10-year imprisonment or be fined with Tk10 lakh or both.