Landslides, often called hill tragedies, have been making screaming headlines for some years now. And this is not for nothing. Hills here, unlike in the Himalayan ranges, are formed not by rocks but by soil. So the country's hills are vulnerable to undue interference by man or elements. Successive governments have simply failed to realise that this country's undulating hills are an especial gift of Nature and hence must be conserved by appropriate policy formulation. Remote and not easily accessible, the earth mounds several hundred feet high have been ignored apparently for not having any economic value. But this is a myopic vision. People from plain lands get easily overwhelmed by the charm and beauty of hills and mountains but they do not appreciate the practical values of such natural resources. Neither will they cherish living there because life is full of struggle there. It is the hill people living there, who have mastered the art of cohabiting with hostile Nature.
The indigenous people in hill districts have known to respect the unwritten laws of the surrounding because they have taken the lesson from Nature for generations. It is the arrival of people from the plain land that has upset the balance maintained between exploitation of resources and sustainability of hills. In most hill districts, denudation of forests has exposed the soil to rain, wind and sun. Over the years, the quality of the hills' topsoil gets deteriorated and if there is heavy rain the soil gives in. But denudation is not the only threat facing hills in the country's east. Soil from hills is randomly removed by earth-cutting machines. In the absence of any opposition or monitoring, entire hills are pillaged. There is no sign of the Cumilla Lalmai Hills now.
What is amazing is that the public works and housing department of the government is oblivious of the need for protecting hills and the tree covers on them. All because of the lack of awareness of conservation of Nature. In Chattogram city, the DC bungalow was built defying the rule of hill conservation. Other government establishments were built in and around the area. The hills were cleared for accommodation of more offices in Chattogram only in recent past. All this is indication that the official stand on preservation of hills is conspicuous by its absence.
Now, more hill areas are increasingly brought under cultivation of crops and fruits --some of those exotic. Whether such cultivation is ecologically sustainable is not known. In fact, study on hills in the country and their indispensability has received little attention. Here is an area that needs to be brought into focus to know how the hilly contours get impacted by cultivation of crops, including jhum. But before the process reaches a level of respectability, it would be better to gather knowledge of how neighbouring countries do the trick. Landslides were hardly a problem in the past but now their frequency demands concrete steps to arrest those. A comprehensive hill conservation policy and suitable action plan are well in order.
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