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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

RIVER PROTECTION EMBANKMENT

Tree-felling continues despite resistance from local people

  • Felling of trees began in the middle of December 
  • The trees were planted under a social forestry project
Update : 22 Jan 2024, 09:22 AM

Since Cyclone Aila hit the coastal belt of the country 14 years ago, local people in Koyra Upazila of Khulna have been looking after thousands of trees planted by the Forest Department for the protection of the community from the tidal surge of the Kopotakkho River.

The trees were planted under a social forestry project, and over time, the trees have grown tall. Birds, too, have set up nests in the branches of the trees. But they were all taken aback when they saw the trees being felled by some men last December, Krishna Mandal, a resident of the Hariharpur area, told this correspondent.

Kirshna is not the only one who found it difficult to accept that the trees were being felled just like that. The trees are being felled to make room for an 8-km-long embankment along the Kopotakkho River.

Imtiaz Uddin, general secretary of the Koyra Upazila development committee, said the embankment is for the benefit of the people, but they also need the trees in the char areas. Apart from this, the trees are essential to protecting the embankment following repair work.

“It will be impossible to plant the number of trees that are being felled in the next 20 years,” he said.

Imtiaz Uddin also called upon the authorities to build the embankment without felling the trees and instead use the trees to protect the embankment.

Local sources said the felling of trees began in the middle of December in Hariharpur village. At the beginning, contractors faced resistance from local people and the Forest Department, and they had to stop felling the trees. However, the trees are being felled in secret now.

According to sources, the Water Development Board-2 (WBD) is implementing a project in Satkhira to build an 8-km-long embankment under two packages along 14/1 Polder of Koyra. Currently, the contractor company, M/S Amin and Co., is extracting soil from the project area, and the project is worth Tk26 crore, WBD sources confirmed. The project work began on December 15, 2023.

Rasel Hossain, who supervised the tree felling in the Hariharpur area on behalf of the contracting company, said some trees had to be cut down for the sake of the project.

According to the locals, the soil in the project area is being cut with excavators on both sides of the embankment. These machines are uprooting trees that are along the river. Later, these trees will also be covered in soil. Besides, a road is being made through sand filling to take the excavator through the river bed. Locals fear that many more trees will be felled.

They said that the trees work as a shield to protect the embankment. A bird sanctuary has also emerged in the area over the years. When work on the barrage began in mid-December, workers began cutting down hundreds of trees. Following complaints from local people, the social forest department and the local administration prohibited damaging the trees. The tree trunks cut from there were seized and kept in the local Union Parishad office. However, the contractor's men did not stop felling the trees.

Kabita Rani Mandal of Hariharpur village said: "During the storm and flood, I have seen that embankments in other areas have broken down, but none of our embankments were damaged.

“During storms, the large trees act as shields to protect us. It is not right to cut the trees like this.”

Fakir Chand, a local resident, said that earlier workers used to work with baskets and spades to repair the barrage. He used to bring soil to his head from far away. Now the stability of the barrage will be jeopardized if the extraction of soil continues with machines.

Another local resident, Harshit Kumar Mondal, said: "A month ago, the people of the village received information that all the trees in their area would be cut down for the construction of a large embankment. Following the news, many people in the village started cutting down trees on their own.”

“In the last week of December, the Forest Department and the local administration interfered, and the tree felling stopped. They also instructed the contractor's men not to cut trees. Even though the villagers stopped, the contractor's men continued to cut the trees,” Harshit said.

Mehdi Hasan Mishuk, sub-divisional engineer of WDB-2, said: “Because the embankment is too wide, a road has to be made by filling sand for excavators. That is why the trees have been cut.”

He said that they also spoke to the Forest Department in this regard. Social forestry will be done again in the area after the construction work ends, the official said.

Shafiur Rahman Sabuj, Forest Department officer-in-charge of Koira Upazila, said that it will take another 14 years for reforestation after the construction of the embankment. These trees have protected the embankment in this area for years. That is why they asked WDB to stop cutting the trees. The matter has also been reported to senior officials.

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