Development the priority, not nature!
To make space for new administrative and academic buildings, authorities of Rajshahi University of Engineering Technology (Ruet) have felled around 50 trees recently, most of which are over half a century old.
This was done without taking mandatory approval from the Forest Department, divisional forest officer Ahmed Niamur Rahman told The Daily Star. "The Ruet authorities have not even informed the forest department about the tree-felling," he said.
Talking to The Daily Star, environmentalists said the felling of these old trees, including litchi, mahogany, and koroi -- all of which grew inside the campus since the university's inception in 1964 -- will leave a bad impact on the area's ecosystem.
During a visit to the campus yesterday, this correspondent saw labourers felling tree one after another. Till yesterday, the felling of at least 15 Krishnachura and Minjiri trees were almost complete.
Contacted, Ruet registrar Prof Md Selim Hossain said the project is being supervised by the offices of planning and development, and the superintending engineer of Ruet.
He said the campus has not undertaken any development works since the 1980s, but recently the government approved nearly Tk 600 crore worth of development projects for Ruet.
The felled trees will give way to ten multi-storied buildings, with the site in front of the Civil Engineering Faculty housing the administrative building.
Contacted, both superintending engineer Amit Roy Chowdhury and planning and development affairs director Zaglul Sadat refused to state anything on the matter.
Meanwhile, the university authorities were also found to have sold the felled trees at a lower than market rates.
Abdus Samad, a local timber trader, said he estimates each of them to go for Tk 50,000.
However, the campus authorities sold all the 15 felled trees for only Tk 1.27 lakh, this correspondent found.
Md Jalal Uddin, senior assistant director of security in the campus, said the trees were sold off to Ruet employee Golam Mostafa, following proper procurement rules.
It was Golam Mostafa who recruited labourers to fell the trees.
Meanwhile, Ruet registrar Prof Selim said the university has been planting around 1,000 trees on the campus in the last one year to compensate for the felled trees.
However, experts said this stands for little.
Contacted, Prof AHM Mahbubur Rahman of Rajshahi University's Department of Botany said, "Planting new trees does not compensate for the felling of old trees," as it takes time for a new tree to fulfil the function of a much older one.
"Ruet and RU campuses are proud to have these trees. Other than providing oxygen for us, they play critical roles in the area's ecosystem," he said.
Mahbub Tunku, general secretary of Poribesh Andolon Oikya Parishad, said they have been noticing a "mad rush" for tree-felling in Rajshahi for development activities.
"We're not sure whether we need development of this kind, but we're sure we need these old trees," he said, adding that the authorities should plan development activities without harming the environment.