A mayor’s motive
The destruction of Borshijora Eco-Park -- a protected forestland spread out on 326.07 hectares of land near Moulvibazar stadium -- by the hands of the town mayor has brought to light the question whether any forest or wildlife in the country are protected at all.
Although there are other landfills where solid waste of the town is being disposed of for long, the mayor recently started felling trees in a wide area of the forestland and constructing a road by razing parts of hillocks in the area, so that dump trucks can bring in garbage into the new landfill.
In a 'monthly law and order meeting' of Moulvibazar district, held on April 11 and presided over by Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mir Nahid Ahsan, the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division (WMNCD) in Moulvibazar -- the conservator of the forest under the Forest Department -- demanded that the Moulvibazar municipality authorities stop all activities that are destroying the Borshijora Eco-Park and its ecology.
DC Mir Nahid Ahsan during the meeting directed the Moulvibazar mayor to stop all destructive activities in the park.
The Forest Department also sent a letter in this regard to Mayor Fazlur Rahman, who is also the joint secretary of Awami League's Moulvibazar district unit.
However, ignoring all the directives and demands, the devastation of the forest continues unabated till date, said locals.
This correspondent during a recent visit to the open landfill in the park witnessed disposing of garbage, most of which are non-biodegradable plastics of different forms, from dump trucks belonging to Moulvibazar municipality. Signs of tree-felling and hill-cutting along the road to the landfill were evident as well.
Aside from a suffocating stench of decomposing waste, an overpowering smell of toxic fumes from burning plastic waste was apparent at numerous spots in the area.
A team of delegates from green organisations -- Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (Bapa) executive committee; Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bapa's Sylhet unit; Tofazzal Sohel, general secretary of Bapa's Habiganj unit; and ASM Saleh Sohel, coordinator of Bapa's Moulvibazar unit -- also witnessed similar destructive activities in the forest during their visit on May 23.
Burning of plastics has been causing severe air pollution, which poses health hazards to wildlife and humans alike while the dumping of non-biodegradable waste is polluting the soil and groundwater. All these activities including the destruction of natural topography of the forest through the felling of trees and excavation of earth for the road are highly harmful for the flora and fauna of the protected forest, said officials at WMNCD in Moulvibazar.
Nurul Mohaimin Milton, general secretary of Bangladesh Environmental Journalists' Forum's Moulvibazar unit, said wild animals and birds may die from eating plastic pieces or decomposed food dumped in the eco-park.
While the felling of trees and cutting of hillocks for a road will jeopardise the existence of the forestry, the toxic fumes and smoke spewed out of the burning plastics may put residents of surrounding areas in harm's way, he added.
Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bapa executive committee, said disposal of a town's waste in protected forests not only desecrates different laws of the land, but also undermines the government's commitment to addressing the challenges of climate change.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, divisional forest officer (DFO) of WMNCD in Moulvibazar, said all the illegal activities are being carried out to ultimately encroach on the forestland that WMNCD is entrusted to protect and preserve.
Aside from endangerment of wild animals and causing multifaceted environmental pollution, the open landfill will turn into a massive breeding ground of flies and mosquitoes and make nearby residential areas uninhabitable, he also said.
Denying felling of trees or razing of hillocks to build any road in Borshijora Eco-Park, Mayor Fazlur Rahman, however, claimed that the place near the stadium, where garbage of Moulvibazar town is being dumped, is in fact "an abandoned piece of land".
They started dumping waste at the site after finding out that no one in the locality has any claim on it, he also claimed, saying that they needed an alternative landfill as "other dumping stations of the municipality were out of commission for the next six months due to an ongoing renovation work".
Contacted, Moulvibazar DC Mir Nahid Ahsan said during the meeting on April 11, when objection was raised by the Forest Department against the dumping of garbage at the site, he had advised the Forest Department to demarcate the protected forestland by erecting barbed wire fence around it. At the same time, he also instructed the mayor of Moulvibazar to refrain from dumping garbage there.
While speaking with this correspondent, he also warned violators of legal consequences.