The Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (Bscic) has moved toward constructing an "environment-friendly" industrial park spanning 214 acres of land – equivalent to around 161 football fields – in Madhupur reserve forest by felling trees.
According to the Bscic plan, small and medium scale entrepreneurs in the industrial park right beside the Madhupur-Mymensingh road will be processing pineapples and other fruits that grow abundantly in the swathe.
But the local forest department office, the owner of the land, disagrees over the setting up of the industrial zone right in the woods in Madhupur upazila over concerns related to deforestation. Besides, the local environment department office says if the park is set up there, regular industrial operations "will severely harm the trees".
On condition of anonymity, a forest official said the forestry authorities will not allow the Bscic plan to be implemented, unless high-ups of the government order them to overlook the tree felling.
Since the park cannot be set up without an environmental clearance certificate, Bscic is now collecting required approvals from several government offices to leverage them against forest department objections. The Tangail district administration has already issued a no-objection certificate for the park.
According to Bscic documents, the land will be developed after acquisition. Infrastructures such as roads, drains and culverts, dumping yards, water and power supply lines and a common effluent treatment plant will be built later on.
"The Bscic move to set up the park in the reserve forest is illegal as it contradicts the constitution, forest law and directives of the High Court," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, a noted green activist and chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela).
Bscic turned to Madhupur from a previous location, but why?
Madhupur is famous for pineapples, jackfruits and other seasonal fruits. However, a large portion of the fruits rots every season as there is no preservation or processing facility there.
In 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised local residents in Madhupur a fruit processing industry. Subsequently, Bscic chose Mymensingh's Muktagacha upazila – a region near Madhupur – for the processing zone.
But the small and cottage industries corporation in 2019 changed the location of its project to Tangail's Madhupur. Bscic officials say they changed the location as entrepreneurs preferred Madhupur instead of Muktagacha, citing easier transportations and communication regarding the area.
In 2020, Bscic officials along with officials of the local administration visited the forest. By early 2021, the industrial park plan had made progress.
"We protested the land selection in the first place during the visit. But they did not heed our protests," a forest official of Madhupur range told The Business Standard.
Drawing-design for civil works complete
The small and cottage industries corporation is a leading public sector entity engaged in the development and expansion of small and cottage industries in the country.
To accelerate industrialisation, Bscic acquires land, builds industrial plots and allocates those among entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 1957, Bscic has built 76 industrial parks across the country.
According to the corporation, there will be several hundred plots at Madhupur industrial park, with the initial cost estimated at around Tk400 crore. The corporation has already completed the drawing and design of the infrastructures.
After the cost of power is estimated and the feasibility study report is obtained, the development project proposal will be revised and submitted to the industries ministry. The ministry will forward the project proposal to the Planning Commission.
Development at what cost?
Environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan said the government should first decide whether there will be only industries and production units in the country, or some rivers and forests too. Referring to the constitution, she said the government is obliged to protect forests and water bodies.
She said the High Court has ordered the preservation of 43,000 acres of Madhupur Sal forest after demarcating the boundaries. The industrial park plan, she noted, is in conflict with the order.
Highlighting the environmental pollution in other Bscic industrial parks, she said, "The corporation cannot be trusted in any way regarding the environment. I have seen what has happened at the Savar tannery estate."
Muhammad Jamal Hossain Talukder, assistant conservator of forests in Tangail, said, "Generally it is not possible to build an industrial park in a reserve forest. If an industrial park is to be built there, the forest must be declared as a de-reserved area first."
Rashedur Rahman, deputy general manager of Bscic, told The Business Standard that the industrial park will be developed by maintaining compliance with rules. He said the "environment-friendly" park will have green space, an LPG station, a common effluent treatment plant, and will generate jobs.
He claimed some of the land earmarked for the park falls within the reserve forest, and that the site includes private properties.
"The project will be finalised after approval is received from the appropriate offices," he added.