When protectors turn predators
THE photograph published on the front page of New Age on Tuesday, which shows trees felled to fill water bodies at village Barakau in Kaliganj upazila of Gazipur to implement a housing project by the public works and housing ministry and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, speaks volume about the lack of commitment of the Awami League-led government to the protection of ecology and environment. According to the report accompanying the photograph, nearly 1,600 acres of cropland, forests, orchards, and water bodies in Kaliganj upazila have been decimated for the Purbachal New Town, about 16 kilometres from the capital Dhaka. The declared objective of the project is to reduce population pressure on the capital. Given the denudation of green cover and decimation of water bodies that have taken place already, one could wonder if the PWD-Rajuk project is also about diffusing the rampant environment and ecology degradation that has come to characterise the capital and other major urban centres in the country. Suffice to say, unplanned urbanisation has virtually rid the city of green cover and wetlands, leaving it choking for fresh air and extremely vulnerable to flood.
It is worth noting that there are well-defined laws for protection of the environment and ecology, e.g. the Wetlands Protection Act of 1997 and the Open Space Protection Act of 2000. Regrettably, however, these laws are more violated than complied with. Over the years, there have been an abundance of reports, editorial comments and opinion pieces in the print media on the wilful destruction of forests, croplands, orchards and wetlands for one housing project or the other by one private-sector real estate developer or the other, and the government agencies such as Rajuk have been criticised for their failure to enforce the relevant laws and rules. In the case of the Purbachal New Town, the violators of the laws and rules are none other than those who are supposed to ensure compliance with these rules and laws. There is more to the appalling story.
According to the New Age report, the public works and housing ministry actually misled the Prime Minister’s Office when the latter initiated an inquiry into the project. In a letter to the PMO on September 20, 2010, the ministry claimed that no forest or cropland was there in the area acquired at Barakau for the project. Simply put, the ministry appears to be guilty on two counts — violation of laws and rules and also obstructing justice by concealing the truth. Infuriatingly still, the project director has insisted that ‘some tree felling is a must to develop a town’ and sought to assure that the authorities ‘will plant double [the number of] trees felled’; as if, the mere act of planting so many trees would restore the ecological balance so ruthlessly disrupted by the authorities.
Be that as it may, the government needs to intervene right away and suspend the project before further damage is done to the environment and ecology. It also needs to take to task the ministry officials that so deliberately misled the PMO.
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