20 operations have been conducted since the UNO began using drones in November last year
In a bid to check unabated tree felling and hill cutting, Ramu Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Pranoy Chakma has been using drones for several months to take care of the forests and hills of the upazila.
He started flying drones in November last year to spot the criminals easily, and protect the hills and forests.
Since then, 20 operations have been conducted with the help of drones, leading to the seizure of 1,920 cubic feet of stones, 103 cft of wood and 18 dump trucks.
A number of people were imprisoned for various terms for their involvement in the illegal hill cutting and tree felling, according to the UNO office.
“The drone drives have curbed the incidents of razing hills and felling trees in my upazila,” said the UNO, who is committed to continue drone operations to save the forests and hills.
Ramu upazila covers an area of 391.71 sq-km, including 185.76 sq-km reserved forests and hilly area.
Remote areas of the upazila are ideal for illegal logging and hill cutting activities as these places are difficult for the authorities to monitor. In the past, perpetrators often escaped by the time the officers reached the spots.
“But now, it is easy to identify the culprits by observing the area with drones prior to reaching the spot physically,” Pranoy Chakma told Dhaka Tribune.
He said that a syndicate was involved in the illegal activities and they work mostly at the dead of night.
“They used to intimidate our informers or gave them money. For these reasons, obtaining information became extremely difficult. The use of drones has changed the situation,” he added.
Explaining a recent drive, the UNO said: “I received information that a group of miscreants were loading stones in a dump truck after extracting them illegally from the hills in Saudagar Para area of Kawarkhop union. I used the drone to quickly confirm the incident before our team rushed to the spot and seized the truck, with the miscreants on board.
“I can monitor remote areas directly from anywhere with the support of drones.”
During a visit to Ramu recently, this correspondent learned that the residents of the area are aware of the use of drones by the administration. Now the criminals are afraid of being spotted, they say.
Disappearing forests, hills
In the last 36 years, a large number of trees and hills have been cut down in Ramu region. Evidence of destruction is visible through satellite imaging.
According to various sources, the soil and stones extracted from the hilly forests are used in the construction of multi-storey buildings. Furthermore, a vast number of trees are being chopped down to feed brick kilns.
In the last five years, about 40 brick kilns were established in Ramu Upazila, most of which are illegal.
Besides, many hills of Ramu have been ravaged for the new railway route from Chittagong to Ghumdhum.
Lauding the initiative taken by the UNO, Juarinala Forest Range Officer Sultan Mahmud Titu said that influential local politicians were behind the destruction of the hills and trees.
“Even the locals do not want to give information out of fear. However, we are trying to stop the illegal activities. It is challenging for us to conduct operations frequently due to shortage of manpower and necessary logistics at the range offices,” he added.
However, many locals pointed fingers at the local forest office staff, who turn a blind eye to what is happening. In many cases, they helped the offenders in exchange for bribes, allege the locals.