On 22 August, on information that a group of influential locals had cut a hill in Bayazid-Kalabagan mosque area, a team of the Department of Environment (DoE), Chattogram metro office started a drive against the suspects.
Reaching the spot, the officials were obstructed by the key suspect, Ariful Islam, and the team returned without taking any action, except serving a notice to the hill owner.
Surprisingly, Ariful, who is believed to have masterminded the hill cutting, locked into an argument with the DoE officials, saying that they should not conduct such a drive as the high-ups of the environment office were paid a large sum of money, according to eyewitnesses.
It became evident among locals that the culprits had managed the DoE office in cutting the hill.
Experts believe that weak implementation of laws and indifference of the administration are the main reasons, owing to which hills in the port city continue to vanish one after another, posing serious threats to the environment and causing landslides and subsequent fatalities every year.
According to the Chattogram District Administration, at least 259 people were killed in the incidents of landslides in the port city in the last two decades, as the latest landslide reported in Sholoshahar IW Railway Colony area yesterday killing a 35-year-old man and his infant daughter.
However, it is believed that there is no precedent of anyone serving a jail sentence in any hill cutting case filed by the DoE.
After filing a suit to defend the rule, it hung for years. On the other hand, after securing bail from the court, the accused again starts hill cutting.
Aliur Rahman, an environmental activist who has been advocating for the hills' protection in the port city for a long time, told The Business Standard that in most cases, the DoE just imposes fines or compensation. "By paying a nominal fine, the criminals not only get away with it, but also legitimise the environment-destroying crime like cutting hills. Later, they sell the land created by cutting down the hill at a high price or build multi-storey buildings."
He called for amendment to the existing environmental protection law to consider hill cutting as a non-bailable offence.
However, not only the local syndicates, but also some powerful public representatives are also involved in hill cutting in Chattogram.
It is alleged that Zahurul Alam Jasim, councillor of North Pahartali Ward-9, who has several cases against him filed by the DoE, is again involved in hill cutting after securing bail.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has filed 26 cases so far and fined Tk12,03,600 for hill cutting incidents in different parts of Chattogram city.
In the last 32 years, 120 out of 200 hills of the city have disappeared, shows a study by SM Sirajul Haque, a former professor of Chittagong University's Institute of Forestry and Environment.
The total hill area of the city dropped by 57% to 14.2 square kilometres in 2008, from 32.37 square kilometres in 1976, with the hills being destroyed in Bayezid, Khulshi, Panchlaish, Kotwali and Pahartali.
Professor Idris Ali, president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), told The Business Standard, "Due to cutting hills indiscriminately, the environment of the city is almost destroyed. The city has been suffering from rise of temperature, excessive rainfall and waterlogging due to cutting of hills."
Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Chattogram, Abul Bashar Mohammed Fakhruzzaman told TBS, "We conduct drives to stop hill cutting and ask the DoE to file cases against the culprits behind it. The DoE also files cases but cannot ensure exemplary punishment."
Hillol Biswas, the director of DoE Chattogram metro, could not be contacted immediately for his comments, despite several attempts.