The Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED) has undertaken a nine-kilometer-road construction project, three-and-a-half kilometers of which sits is in the reserve forest in Ukhiya upazila of Cox's Bazar, threatening the forest's greenery and biodiversity.
The Forest Department protested repeated attempts to construct the road as the construction areas are in the middle of reserve forest.
Range officer Abdul Matin of the Cox's Bazar South Forest Division's Whykong Range told The Business Standard, "We objected when the LGED started cutting trees, bushes and soil to construct a road through the Forest Department's reserve forest as there is no way a road may be constructed through a reserve forest."
When asked, the LGED said that if the construction of the road – stretching from Palangkhali area to Chepatkhali Dhalar Mukh of Ukhiya upazila – is not finished soon, the Asian Development Bank will take back the financial assistance it had provided.
Apart from threatening biodiversity, thousands of acres of forest in Cox's Bazar have already been destroyed to make makeshift camps to shelter Rohingyas – individuals who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state to survive military crackdown.
If the road is constructed through reserve forest then the environment will face serious risks, such as the destruction of wildlife habitat and wandering areas for elephants, destruction of forests, and illegal occupation of forest land. So, environmental organizations have raised their voices, protesting the initiative.
Some allege that the road is going to be constructed for Rohingyas to enter and exit their camps, destroying the forest and causing a huge threat to its biodiversity.
Sources concerned said the LGED started building the nine-kilometer road in Ukhiya upazila for approximately Tk17 crore. As three-and-a-half kilometers of this road are within the bounds of the reserve forest, the forest department raised objections.
While talking to the correspondent of The Business Standard, some locals – including Rashid Ahmad, Hakim Ullah, Nurul Anwar – said there is a small walkway through the forest. Local people generally use the walkway to go to the hill. Once the road is constructed for vehicles, it will affect forest land and trees badly.
Rashedul Majid, Chief Executive of the Environment People, a local environmental organization, said the Rohingya influx has left a critical impact on the forest as thousands of acres land in the Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas have been destroyed to build makeshift camps.
Meanwhile, the environment and nature of the area – including wandering areas for elephants and the habitat of wildlife – will be at risk if the road is constructed for Rohingyas through the forest. Then, greenery in the reserve forest will gradually decrease and the forest might be occupied illegally, he added.
Rashedul Majid urged the authorities concerned to undertake development projects adjacent to the Rohingya camps with their environmental impact in mind.
Cox's Bazar South Forest Division's Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Humayun Kabir said since 2018, there have been repeated attempts – without the permission of the proper authority – to construct the road through the reserve forest. There is no way for a road to be constructed on reserve forest on forest department land.
"If there was national interest, then permission would have to be obtained by the proper authority to construct the road through the reserve forest. However, prior to receiving the decision, local officials of the LGED have been trying to construct the road for the last two years," he added.
"We suggested the local authority of the LGED settle the issue through the ministries."
He also said a few days ago, there was an attempt to cut the hill. He added, "It is harmful to the forest area to construct a road through it. The forest is necessary for all. We obstructed the road construction considering the interests of the country and its people."
Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) Cox's Bazar Executive Engineer Anisur Rahman said the LGED has undertaken a Tk17 crore project to construct the nine-kilometer road, stretching from Palangkhali area to Chepatkhali Dhalar Mukh of Ukhiya upazila.
"However, at the beginning of this work, our officials were obstructed by the Forest Department. The Forest Department seized our road construction equipment, including our excavator."
He also said, "If the road construction is not finished soon, the Asian Development Bank will take their money back after a certain time period. So, we are indecisive. We have informed the higher authorities about the issue and are waiting for their decision."