Seasonal efforts failing to save hills in Chattogram. Worse, agency also cuts them

  • Mitoon Chowdhury, Chattogram Bureau, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-06-05 08:24:29 BdST

With the arrival of monsoon, a Hill Management Committee of Chattogram has sought the lists of people with illegal gas, power and water connections like past years to evict the families from the hills and avoid casualties from possible landslides.

As the authorities are cutting hills for road development in the district along with the encroachers, the number of vulnerable hills has reached 25 and experts fear seasonal efforts to save them are failing. 

In 2019, the district administration made a list 835 families living on 17 hills owned by individuals and government agencies after marking hills as vulnerable. As many as 350 families were evicted at the time while the 485 others stayed.   

Even as the pandemic began last year, cutting hills in the port city for housing of low-income people continued.

The Chattogram Development Authority or CDA also cut 18 other hills to develop a road linking Bayezid and Fouzdarhat. Eight of them have been declared vulnerable.

The authorities demolished more than 350 illegal structures at the feet of the hills at that time. Now the encroachers are back.

WAITING FOR LISTS

The Hill Management Committee in a meeting on May 9 formed a sub-committee with members from the utility agencies to make lists of people using illegal connections on the vulnerable hills as part of the preparations for the eviction drive before monsoon.

The list has not been made yet with monsoon days away. 

Mohammad Nazmul Ahsan, an additional deputy commissioner and member secretary of the committee, said WASA denied giving any illegal connection to the hills. The gas and power distributors are yet to respond after a reminder on May 31.

The government agencies owning the hills have not submitted the lists of illegal structures either.

Nazmul said assistant commissioners are also making lists. All the lists will be finally cross-checked.

CASES

Bangladesh Railway owns the hill at Firoz Shah and the Motijharna hill belongs to Chattogram City Corporation.

Nurullah Noori, director of the Department of Environment in Chattogram who heads the sub-committee to make the lists, said the authorities cannot evict around 10,000 people living on the two hills due to a stay order of the High Court.

During a visit on Friday, bdnews24.com found that mud houses were built on Motijharna hill as recently as months ago.

A resident, Abdul Quader, said they live there because of low rent. They build new rooms “by paying the people overseeing the settlement” when the number of family members increase. 

Quader anticipates they will be forced by the authorities to move away before monsoon.

Vulnerable homes were also spotted on the hill at Kusumbagh, where a landslide killed eight people in 2007.

Monir Ahmed, a resident of the area, said his family left a home at the feet of the hill and rented a nearby flat a few months ago.

CDA CUTS HILLS

The CDA cut the hills from Fouzdarhat to Bayezid Bostami along the six-kilometre Dhaka Trunk Road at a 90-degree angle, creating huge risks of landslide.

The authorities in October last year sought permission from the DoE to trim 200,000 cubic feet of the hills at a 45-degree angle and reduce the risk of landslide.

The DoE then asked the CDA to form a committee of experts and report on its proposal.

Kazi Hasan Bin Shams, the chief engineer of CDA, said some parts of the hills can be saved by erecting walls once the authorities get the DoE’s permission.

DoE’s Noori said they will consider giving the permission after getting the report.

“The hills have vulnerable structures as well. We'll decide about the eviction after a meeting on Jun 9,” he said.

CAN HILLS BE SAVED IN THIS WAY?

Professor Kamal Hossain of Chattogram University’s forest and environment department pointed out the fact that the evictions every year will not bring back the lost parts of the hills.

He alleges the authorities conduct the drives only to show they are doing something. “They catch some labourers, seize machines and slap some fines. That’s all.”

“These (steps) will not bring the hills back. The hills along the Bayzid link road will collapse during monsoon. The authorities will then remove the soil. There won’t be any hill left.”

Kamal also pointed out that hills do not have only soil, they are also home to a diverse types of trees, animals, birds and insects.

“So, Chattogram city will lose the balance of nature along with the hills,” he said.

Foresting for years may save the hills as they are now, according to him.

Sharif Chowhan, the president of environmental organisation People's Voice, said not half the hills he saw when he was a child could survive.

“Hill-cutting cannot be stopped through eviction drives during monsoon. After two months of evictions, hill-cutting continues for 10 months. If this goes on for some more years, there won’t be a single hill left in the city.”