Several major industrial companies have been issued show-cause notices for their activities
In a blatant disregard for environmental laws, two leading Chittagong-based business groups have razed vast tracts of hills to construct roads.
The errant businesses were identified as Kabir Steel Re-rolling Mills Ltd (KSRM) and PHP Float Glass Industries Ltd.
This was revealed when an enforcement team from the Department of Environment conducted drives at Barabkunda in Sitakunda on February 23.
During the raids, the DoE team discovered that KSRM Ltd illegally razed 5,540 square feet of hills to construct a road.
Similarly, PHP Ltd also razed over 21,750 square feet of hills in Barabkunda to construct a road.
Moazzam Hossain, director of DoE (Chittagong) told the Dhaka Tribune that no permission was given in the area to cut or raze hills.
He said: "It is a punishable offence to cut or raze hills without taking permission from the government. We have already summoned the two errant businesses for a hearing on March 6 to explain why legal action should not be taken against them for illegally razing hills. They will face legal action, including lawsuits, if they do not comply with the order."
According to urban planners, 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.
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 for landslide vulnerability in the hilly areas of Chittagong.
He explained: “Unlike other parts of the country, the hills of the Chittagong region are constituted of crumbling soil and become 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 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 risk of landslides.”
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.
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 rigorous imprisonment or a fine of Tk10 lakhs, or both.
Under the terms of Building Construction Rules-1996, a clearance certificate must be obtained from Department of Environment for razing or cutting any hill.