The chairman of Bhatera union parishad (UP) in Kulaura upazila has been involved in the destruction of environment by razing a hillock in the area, but a quarter with vested interest is apparently trying to implicate a poor house help in the illegal act.
Locals alleged that all of them know very well that UP Chairman Syed AKM Nazrul Islam flattened a hillock to build Islamnagar Syed Sajid-Piyara Primary School, named after his parents, and a mosque.
Many others in the area are also destroying hillocks to sell earth or build houses illegally under the protection of the UP chairman, but rather than taking action against him, the administration has been after the innocent woman, Begun Begum, and her rickshaw-puller husband Nurul Mia, they said requesting anonymity.
Landless Begun Begum used to be a staffer at the school that the UP chairman established, but after the school closed for coronavirus pandemic, she had to start working at different houses as a maid to make ends meet, they also said.
Begun Begum said she has been living under extreme fear and going from office to office, including that of the Department of Environment (DoE), to prove her innocence.
"I'm a penniless woman with no children of mine. I go to bed hungry at night if I can't work for one day. But now I'm having to run around in order to clear my name from an accusation that has nothing to do with me or my husband," said the tearful woman.
Abdul Karim Kim, executive member of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan, said as per the Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act 2010, hill cutting is a cognizable offence and no one, even the government, semi-government or autonomous organisation, is allowed to cut or raze hills without prior permission from the authorities concerned.
But unfortunately, people with influence have been defying the law and destroying hills across the country to build houses, roads or educational institutions, he added.
This correspondent recently visited the site next to Islamnagar Syed Sajid-Piyara Primary School, in Bhatera union, where the hillock was still being cut.
But the workers engaged in the hill cutting hastily fled the scene before the correspondent was able to speak with them.
After this correspondent reached Bodrul Huda, assistant director of the DoE in Moulvibazar, he said, "I visited the spot recently and found that the hill was cut without permission. All hills in the area are being cut with the help of the local UP chairman."
"I went to Begun Begum's house... The landless woman, whose husband is a rickshaw puller, was made a scapegoat," he said, adding that he already submitted his report in this regard with the director of DoE in Sylhet division.
However, Assistant Commissioner (Land) Nazratun Naeem of Kulaura upazila had a different view over the matter. She said when they visited the site of the partially razed hillock, next to the school in Islamnagar of Bhatera union, no workers were found in the act.
When asked why in her report, filed following the field visit, she implicated Begun Begum and her husband for the destruction of the hill, Nazratun said Begun Begum and her husband's name were mentioned by locals as the persons responsible for the illegal act.
Besides, she could not find any proof of UP Chairman Syed AKM Nazrul Islam's involvement in the crime during her visit, she also claimed.
Contacted, UP chairman Syed AKM Nazrul Islam said the hill was his private property and he did not obtain any prior permission from the authorities concerned before flattening 33 decimals of it for constructing a primary school and a mosque.
The same piece of land has already been handed over via registered deed to the Directorate of Primary Education, he added.
According to locals, several others -- including Motin Mia, Nurai Mia, Siraj Mia and Nizam Mia -- are also doing brisk business by selling earth from hillocks belonging to the government and they all have blessings of the UP chairman.
Refuting the allegation, Motin Mia said he owns a registered hillock and he allowed local ward member Shamim Ahmed to extract earth from it for repair work of a road.
Contacted, Director of DoE in Sylhet Division Mohammad Emran Hossain said under no circumstances can any hill be cut and appropriate legal action will be taken against those who violate environmental laws.
With regards to the hill cutting in Bhatera union, he said they initially issued notices for UP Chairman Syed AKM Nazrul Islam, Begun Begum, Motin Mia, Nurai Mia, Siraj Mia, Nizam Mia and Shukur Mia.