Spectra Engineers Limited, a construction company, has been cutting down hills and filling lakes and hilly streams with apparent impunity for several years to occupy government land beside the Bayezid-Faujdarhat link road in Chattogram.
Allegations also run rife that the company helps others in cutting hills in exchange for a huge amount of money.
Even though Spectra has been conducting its environmentally destructive activities in broad daylight, the authorities concerned are yet to take any effective steps to thwart it.
Of late, an investigation by the Department of Environment (DoE) found evidence of cutting down 1.20 acres of hills in the 5th Bridge area on Bayezid Link Road and filling a part of Foy's Lake by Spectra Engineers.
Mohammad Masud Hasan Patwari, director (monitoring and enforcement) of the DoE, told The Business Standard, "The company has cut down hills across a huge area, which will have a negative impact on the environment. We will submit a report to the ministry in this regard."
The whole area where Spectra is cutting down hills is surrounded by strong walls made of tin. On 30 October this year, this correspondent tried to enter the area but was stopped by several youths who said there was no permission to go into the site.
But the area could be seen from the high hill next to it. Spectra has levelled more than 1.5 acres of land by cutting down at least four hills and mounds. A part of Foy's Lake has been filled with the soil cut from the hills.
There is also an allegation that the company has forcibly occupied land owned by Chattogram University in the Bayezid Link Road area.
Md Yusuf, deputy registrar of Chattogram University, said, "We have three acres of land next to the Link Road but Spectra broke all our installations and took over the land last week."
Spectra Engineers Limited is also constructing Arshi Nagar Future Park-2 by cutting a huge hill in the area. The company has already set up a building and several tents there.
The soil has been dumped in a stream of another hill. Besides, two dams have been made by throwing geobags into the stream. As a result, a large part of the stream has been filled with soil and sand coming down from the hill.
Nasir Uddin Didar, spokesperson of Spectra Engineers and cultural secretary of Mirsarai Upazila Awami League, was contacted via phone. But he disconnected the call after he had come to know the identity of this correspondent.
The role of DoE
Earlier, in 2020, the Department of Environment filed a case against four people – including Md Robiul Haque, project manager of Spectra Limited, and Nasir Uddin Didar, coordinator of the company – for cutting down hills and filling a lake in Chattogram.
During the hearing of the case, the accused admitted to their wrongdoing. The department then fined them Tk5.23 crore and instructed them to restore the filled lake and destroyed hills to their former condition within three months.
However, no further steps have been taken by the DoE in this regard in around two years after the order. In the meantime, the company has continued to occupy government land by cutting down hills.
According to the Sitakunda UNO office, a list of 72 people involved in hill cutting was sent to the Department of Environment. So far, only five organisations and individuals have been charged by the department.
When asked, Mohammad Nurullah Noori, director of the DoE Chattogram metropolitan and acting director of the department's Chattogram region, told TBS, "Spectra took our permission to use the space to store soil for their project. But they cut down the hill. After being informed of the matter, we carried out an investigation and fined the company."
Echoing Noori, Jamir Uddin, deputy director of the DoE Chattogram district, said, "The department can take action against hill cutting. We have nothing to do with lake filling. However, if such news is published in the media, we can take action."
Dr ATM Mahbub-ul-Karim, director of DoE (administration), told TBS, "If anybody cuts a hill, the DoE is bound to take action."
Spectra not the only one to cut hills
Alongside Spectra Engineers, several other parties are also involved in hill cutting in the area.
There are two signboards with the names of Jungle Salimpur Land Owners Society and Blue View Co-operative Society inside the boundary wall of Arshi Nagar Future Park-2. Another signboard in the name of Sustainable Environment Management Consultant could be seen in the hill behind the park area.
Local resident Mansur Ali said government land has been occupied in the name of these organisations.
Bengal Bricks Industries has made a boundary wall on both sides of the CDA Road in Bayezid 3rd Bridge area. A huge area has been levelled by cutting the hill inside the enclosure. RCC pillars have also been planted on the hill beside the place.
On the 4th Bridge area in Bayezid, Sitakunda Upazila Parishad Chairman and Juba League President SM Al Mamun has occupied two hills and put up signboards in his name. His caretaker Musa said, "We bought this hill a year ago. I cannot say anything more in this regard."
Three other signboards of Salam Tree Project, Jinnurain Properties and Iron Traders Association could be seen in the surrounding three hills of the area.
On both sides of the road adjacent to the Asian University for Women, government land and hills have been occupied by different organisations and individuals including the North Jalalabad Housing Project and Metropolitan Housing Cooperative Society.