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The Financial Express

OPINION

Of deadly levelling of hills


Of deadly levelling of hills

The phenomenon has been causing deep concern to a large section of people living in the southeastern and northeastern regions of the country. They comprise thehill slope and hill foot-based slum dwellers. The bout of the showers in the receding weeks of the last of the two-month Bangla summer, prior to the rainy monsoon, makes its onset in the country amid insidious fears. This fraught scenario has been in place for over the last two decades. With the country's 60 per cent of the hills and hillocks flattened by unscrupulous quarters, few of them are left intact. But, in fact, in many remotely located areas, hills still stand in fading glory. Mostly underprivileged people are encouraged illegally to settle down on these hills on monthly rents. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) occupies a dominant place among these risk-laden areas. Without realising the hazards of living on the hillside, people once used to desperately find out these forest covered hills. They would stick to the practice despite terrible monsoon landslide deaths almost every year.

Now that the once hill-dominant forest swathes have been thinning out fast, the poorer people are found living on hills on the city suburbs in ChittagongPortCity. With a few reserved and barricaded private hills made off-limits to encroachers, the habitually hill-dwelling people are veritably in dire straits.

The outskirts of SylhetCity also offer a similar view. With the area's prominent hills levelled by the local influential quarters, the practice of living in the shanty dwellings built on the gentle or steephill slopes is followed in full swing. The crashing in of the chunks of an earthen hillock on a small suburban neighbourhood in the Jaintapur area in the Sylhet district on June 6 emerges as the first mudslide tragedy of the year. The dwelling most affected was one at the hill's foot. The loosening of a large mud chunk occurred during a heavy downpour. The house severely hit belonged to a 35-year-old electrician. The young male died in his sleep. Along with him, his wife, a 5-year-old son and his sister-in-law died in the nighttime mudslide. The whole area was dark, with the populous locality deep asleep. In fact, a small happy family was buried under loosened mud chunks leaving the village stunned in grief. Besides the dead, several people living on the hill were badly injured.

The case of Sylhet's Jaintapur is different. Unlike in other areas, here the soilis excavated from the slopes of hillocks. This soil is later sold to people in need of it. Despite their identity and known profile among the locals, they remain beyond the reach of law. Cases against some of them were lodged during campaigns by the directorate of environment. But these actions proved futile. The hill-levelling syndicates returned with renewed vigour to swoop on yet the other fresh hillock ranges.

Thanks to the reckless lifting of precious soil from hills, the people living in Jaintapur region is fast becoming vulnerable to myriad types of hazards including deaths from mudslide. The government has enacted some stringent rules against hill levelling. Moreover, the higher court has prohibited levelling of hills and hillocks. But the practice hasn't stopped. It is up to the local government agencies to ensure that the courts' directives are followed properly.The country's environment laws have made the soil lifting from hills a punishable offence. But the criminal activities continue without any let-up. Scores of helpless people have met their untimely deaths in these unconscionable mishaps. But an effective bulwark against the criminal practice still eludes the nation. This is highly pitiful.

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