Almost nine out of every ten sawmills (90 percent) in Rangpur division are running without licenses, depriving the government of substantial revenue, according to the office of the Rangpur divisional forest officer.
Though most sawmills in Rangpur operate without a license, they have legitimate access to electricity connections.
Some sawmill owners said that even though it is not right to operate without a license, the process of getting a one is difficult.
A sawmill owner has to get an operating license from the forest department. The license fee is Tk2,000 and renewal fee is Tk500.
None of the 252 sawmills in Gaibandha and 247 sawmills in Nilphamari under Rangpur division have a license, said Gopal Chandra Mahanta, who works at the local forest department.
So the government is losing about Tk126,000 worth of revenue in renewal fees every year from Gaibandha alone.
"A license is required to get bank loans, but the process of getting a license is difficult," said Md Harun-ur-Rashid, president of the now-defunct Rangpur Sawmill Owners' Association.
"A sawmill owner has to prove his claim on the land he wants to use to set up his factory in order to get a license. A recommendation letter from the local assistant land officer certifying the claim is needed along with a map," he added.
Harun said he had applied for the recommendation letter, but did not get it even after waiting for a long time.
"I have not been able to get a license from the forest department even yet," added Harun.
Md Nuruzzaman, owner of Janata Sawmill in Rangpur, has been running his business since 1980. At one point during his long business career, he ran short of funds, but he could not get a bank loan because he did not have a license.
He has a trade a license from Rangpur City Corporation and regularly renews it. He also pays taxes regularly. But none of these served as alternatives to a license from the forest department that he needs to get bank loans.
He has asked authorities to make the process of getting a license easier.
A number of sawmill owners, who preferred not to reveal their names, said that the forest department's district offices in Rangpur division do no exert pressure on sawmill owners to get a license.
They said it takes a long time to get the required documents, and they are usually too busy to apply for the license.
Shahidul Islam Bablu, general secretary of Samaj Paribartan O Unnayan Forum which advocates for Rangpur division's development, said most sawmills in Rangpur have an electricity connection.
"Once the forest department's license is made mandatory for getting electricity connections, more sawmill owners will obtain one. Consequently, government revenue will rise," he added.
Md Shahadat Hossain Sarkar, chief engineer at the Rangpur office of the Northern Electricity Supply Company, said only documents on land ownership and a trade license are required to get electricity connections for sawmills at present.
Rangpur Divisional Forest Officer Md Matlubur Rahman said he took the job just a few days ago and knows nothing about previous issues. However, he did say that mobile courts had shut down five unlicensed sawmills in the past two months.
"At the next meeting I will present a proposal to make it mandatory for sawmill owners to show the forest department's license when applying for electricity connections," added Matlubur.
Rangpur Divisional Commissioner KM Tariqul Islam said he had no idea until now that so many sawmills were running without licenses in the five districts of Rangpur division.
"The district commissioners will be notified so that they can take action against unlicensed sawmills," he added.
Only nine out of 475 sawmills in Rangpur district, 51 out of 200 in Lalmonirhat and 93 out of 323 in Kurigram have licenses issued by the forest department.