- The inaction of the authorities concerned has influenced the developers to cut hills
- Chattogram City Corporation has cut hills to implement three housing projects in the city
- The Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) has also been accused of cutting hills while implementing various projects
Finlay Properties, a developer company, cut 12,000 cubic feet of hills to build an 18-storey building in the Panchlaish area of Chittagong city. The company was fined Tk12 lakh by the Department of Environment in this incident on 4 September 2019.
The company cut 17,000 cubic feet of hills in the ongoing MN Marigold project on 10 June 2020, despite receiving a positional clearance from the Department of the Environment on the condition that "the hill could not be cut".
They were again fined Tk17 lakh for the violation of the environmental condition. The Chattogram Metropolitan office of the Department of Environment also directed to cancel the location clearance for the project and stop the construction of the building.
But despite the direction of the DoE Chattogram office, the company has not halted the construction work.
Like Finley Properties, many well-known developer companies including Sanmar Properties, Epic Properties, Ratanpur Real Estate, RF Properties and many government and non-government organisations are cutting hills in Chattogram to implement residential projects.
According to the Department of Environment, in the 17 years from 2003 to July 2020, developer companies, government and non-government organisations, and influential people have cut 123 hills in Chattogram city.
The Department of Environment has not filed a single case against the developer companies accused in these incidents. However, even though some cases have been filed against different individuals, the judicial process is very slow.
Saiful Islam, special public prosecutor of the Environmental Court, told The Business Standard, "No case has been filed against the companies in the Environmental Court so far. Some 130 cases are pending from 2007 to 2020 and 160 cases are under investigation. Since 2014, 50 cases have been settled. The accused have been jailed and fined."
Some 130 cases are pending from 2007 to 2020 and 160 cases are under investigation. Since 2014, 50 cases have been settled. The accused have been jailed and fined.
"Manpower crisis of the Department of Environment and the absence of witnesses during the trial are among the various reasons for the slow disposal of the cases," he added.
The inaction of the authorities concerned has influenced the developers to cut hills ignoring the environmental issues.
On the case of Finley Properties' MN Marigold project, the DoE asked the company to set up three RCC pillars to mark the cutting of the hills in the western part of the project.
About six months after the DoE direction, on 29 November, a field visit to the project area found that the pillars had not been set up to mark the boundaries as directed by the department. The demolished hills were covered with canvas cloth. Some workers were working there preparing to cast the roof of the first floor of the building.
Md Nurullah Noori, director of the Chattogram Metropolitan office of the Department of Environment, said, "We will take action again against the Finley Properties if they disobey the instructions of the Department of Environment in the construction works of MN Marigold project."
Mohammad Abdullah Nasser, general manager and head of Sales and Customer Management of Finlay Properties, declined to comment on this issue.
According to the Department of Environment, on 4 November 2020, the department fined Sanmar Properties, one of the prominent developers of the country, Tk2 lakh for cutting down hills in a housing project called Sanmar Green Park in Arefin Nagar.
The Department of Environment also found that the same company took the initiative to construct a multi-storey building by cutting down hills at Summer Hill in Muradpur. After inspecting the area, the Department of Environment found that around 100 trees had been cut down for the project. A complaint in this regard is on the process of hearing at the Department of Environment.
Mahfuzul Bari, general manager of Samnar Properties, said, "Our company is constructing a multi-storey building by purchasing a residential plot in Arefin Nagar. We had to cut a little hill to build the building. We respect the decision of the Department of Environment."
Our company is constructing a multi-storey building by purchasing a residential plot in Arefin Nagar. We had to cut a little hill to build the building. We respect the decision of the Department of Environment.
According to information obtained through an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) at the Chattogram Metropolitan Office of the Department of Environment, the DoE has fined Haji Mohammad Sharif, divisional head (admin) of Epic Properties, Tk96,000, Ratanpur Real Estate Ltd Tk64,000 and RF Properties Tk75,000 in different times.
The department has fined Tk2 crore 93 lakh and 23 thousand in 44 cases from January to September 2020, Tk45 lakh 11 thousand in 19 cases in 2019, Tk7 lakh 25 thousand in 2018, Tk14 lakh 37 thousand in 2017 and Tk11 lakh in 2015, according to the DoE Chattogram office.
An official of the Department of Environment told The Business Standard, "Due to the delay in settling the cases filed in the court, financial penalties are being emphasised instead of filing cases. On the other hand, the accused are appealing to the secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change even after the financial fines."
Meanwhile, Chattogram City Corporation has cut hills to implement three housing projects in the city. In the nineties, 80 plots were constructed by cutting hills in North Khulshi area under the Kobe City Housing project. In 2004, 732 plots of the Lake City Housing project were constructed by cutting hills in Kaibalyadham area of the city. Besides, a 75-plot VIP Housing Society was formed by cutting hills in South Khulshi.
The Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) has also been accused of cutting hills while implementing various projects. On 11 May 2017, the DoE fined the CDA Tk10 lakh for cutting hills on Bayazid Link Road in the city.
Subsequently, on 12 February 2020, the contracting company Spectra Engineers was fined Tk5 crore 23 lakh 20 thousand. The CDA was fined Tk10 crore 38 lakh 69 thousand after a hearing at the DoE in Dhaka in the same incident.
Mia Mahmudul Haque, deputy director of the DoE Chattogram Metropolitan office, said, "We fine the accused and file case against them. Regular campaigns are being conducted to stop the cutting of hills."