• Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:04 am

Landslides a threat to human habitation

  • Published at 01:25 am March 24th, 2019
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File photo: Bangladeshi fire fighters and residents search for bodies after a landslide in Bandarban on June 13, 2017 AFP

Cutting, razing of hills continues in Ctg

Though cutting and razing hills is a punishable offence and a serious threat to human habitation, it is continuing at an alarming rate in Chittagong.

There are specific environmental laws and punishment for committing such crimes.

A person has to undergo a maximum of ten years rigorous imprisonment or pay a fine of Tk10 lakh, or both, if caught committing the crime.

Indiscriminate hill cutting triggers calamities like landslides. Landslides claimed the lives of at least 230 people in Chittagong in the last one decade.

On March 20, a Department of Environment (DoE) team, in a drive in the Salimpur area of Sitakunda upazila in Chittagong, discovered vast tracts of hills razed in the area.

Though criminals engaged in excavating hills managed to flee, two excavators were seized  from the spot, said DoE assistant director Muktadir Hasan.

Another DoE team raided the Kathalbagan area under Bayezid police station in the city, and found evidence of hill cutting. Later on March 18, the DoE served a show-cause notice to two individuals and ordered them to attend a hearing on March 27.

Earlier, on March 6, the DoE fined two leading Chittagong-based business groups Tk9 lakh, for leveling vast hill tracts in Chittagong to construct roads.

Kabir Steel Re-rolling Mills Ltd and PHP Float Glass Industries Ltd were fined Tk5 lakh and Tk4 lakh for razing 5,540 square feet and 21,750 square feet of hills respectively, to construct roads.

Moazzam Hossain, director of DoE (Chittagong region) told the Dhaka Tribune that it is a punishable offence to cut or raze hills without government permission.

According to the DoE's Chittagong metropolitan office, of the 105 cases filed with the environment court in the last 16 years, 44 cases were lodged for razing hills.  

Reason for hill cutting

Hills are mainly razed for building construction, developing residential areas, and road networks.

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.

What makes soil vulnerable?

“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,” he said.

“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 aggravates due to 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.

Punishment

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 the Department of Environment for razing or cutting any hill.