Hill cutting continues indiscriminately in Chittagong, violating environmental laws.
Sources said hills are being cut in full view of the authorities concerned allegedly by the people enjoying political clout.
Khulshi, Panchlaish, Sholoshahar, Bayezid Bostami, Foy's Lake, Akbar Shah, Lalkhan Bazar, Pahartali, Kattali and Polytechnic area are some of the areas affected by mindless hill cutting.
Hills of the port city are mainly razed for building construction, developing residential areas and road network.
Indiscriminate hill cutting has triggered calamities like landslides that killed at least 230 people in Chittagong in the last decade.
A recent drive led by Chittagong deputy commissioner Zillur Rahman Choudhury revealed that around 2.5 acres of hills were flattened in a span of just 10 days by a housing association.
Three excavators used for cutting hills were also seized during the drive conducted at Jalalabad Housing areas under Khulshi police station on January 28. Later, the Department of Environment (DoE) lodged a case against 10 people in this regard.
On January 29, the DoE fined Khulshi Club Limited of Chittagong Tk2 lakh for illegally razing hills.
According to the information provided by the DoE, some10 individuals and businesses from January 1 last year till now, were served show-cause notices for leveling hills in the port city.
Besides, a total of nine individuals and businesses were fined with Tk13.80 lakh while three cases were lodged for razing hills in Chittagong during that period.
Muhammad Rashidul Hasan, assistant professor at the department of urban and regional planning of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET), told the 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.
“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,” 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 risks of landslides,” he added.
Sharif Chowhan, president of environmental organization People’s Voice, said people with political influence were degrading environment of the city through indiscriminate hill cutting.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, he said: “Although mindless hill cutting is continuing under the very nose of the authorities concerned, no effective punitive actions are taken."
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 authorities concerned.
The penalty for cutting hills without approval is up to two years imprisonment, a fine of Tk2 lakhs or both for a first offence. For a subsequent offence the penalty is up to ten years imprisonment, a fine of Tk10 lakhs or both.
Under the terms of Building Construction Rules 1996, clearance certificate must be obtained from Department of Environment for razing or cutting any hill.