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Illegal sawmills near forests in Barguna

  • Published at 02:27 am June 14th, 2018
Most sawmills in Barguna district are operating without the acquiring the licence from the Forest Department Dhaka Tribune
Most sawmills in Barguna district are operating without the acquiring the licence from the Forest Department Dhaka Tribune

Forests play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate natural balance of Bangladesh. These forests are protected by the Forest Department, but the organization has its own set of problems. In the third instalment of a four-part series, Dhaka Tribune’s Barguna correspondent Tariqul Islam looks at how illegal sawmills are encroaching on the environment

Several sawmills near the forest reserves of Barguna are accused of illegally chopping wood for their own benefit while operating without the approval of the government.

Government rules prohibit the establishment of sawmills within 10 kilometres of government-owned forest land, or within five kilometres of an international border. 

Although sawmills are permitted in municipal areas, there is also a law that prohibits them from operating within 200 metres of government and educational institutions; and hospitals, parks, and religious buildings. 

The government directive on illegal sawmills is clear: any facility found operating within a restricted area must be closed inside 90 days.

“We will shut down all illegal sawmills as soon as possible,” Forest Officer Md Aminul Islam said. “With the help of the Upazila Nirbahi Officers, we will take action against the illegitimate establishments.”

Although the official rhetoric is strong, many sawmills are operating within the unsafe ranges, their owners oblivious to the law.

“There are sawmills within two kilometres of Bishkhali River and the forest reserves around it,” Barguna resident Saiful Islam said. 

“These sawmills are not supposed to be here. I do not know what invisible influence keeps these illegal establishments going.”

Of the estimated 350 sawmills in Barguna district, the Dhaka Tribune found only 60 sawmills that are operating with permission and licence from the Forest Department, while the others do not have any licence. 

Preferring anonymity, several people in Potkakhali area of Barguna said many influential and affluent people have been establishing sawmills on government-owned land for years. 

They have neither official approval nor any documents for their mills, which are operating solely based on their influence and money.

One such facility is being run on government-owned land in Barguna by Noor Alam Khandakar. Similarly, several other illegal sawmills have been established along the Khakdan River in the Potkakhali area. 

There is also a nameless sawmill near the Barguna Polytechnic Institute, and this directly violates government imposed laws. Barguna Polytechnic Institute students reported sawdust blowing into their campus on the wind, creating an unhealthy environment for them.

Sources from the Forest Department of Barguna said every sawmill owner in Barguna had been instructed to submit papers for the assessment of a licence. 

“We will take strict legal action against the people who have been neglecting the laws,” Barguna Sadar Forest Department office in-charge (Range Officer) Md Motiar Rahman said. 

“The sawmills that follow the law will receive licences. The ones that did not abide the law will not get a licence. We are also renewing licenses at this time, as well.”

Sources from the Forest Department of Barguna said every sawmill owner in Barguna had been instructed to submit papers for the assessment of a licence. 

“We will take strict legal action against the people who have been neglecting the laws,” Barguna Sadar Forest Department office in-charge (Range Officer) Md Motiar Rahman said. 

“The sawmills that follow the law will receive licences. The ones that did not abide the law will not get a licence. We are also renewing licenses at this time, as well.”