Gone are the hills | The Daily Star
The village is named after its highest hill, Rangapahar, but the natural landmark no longer exists.
Located under Chunoti union in the district’s Lohagara upazila, it has lost all of its hills in just two years since 2018 when the construction of the Dohazari-Cox’s Bazar railway track began.
The hills were razed to make way for the 120km track, which is being built under a fast-track project of the government.
A number of hills and hillocks in the upazila have also been flattened by locals under contract with Toma Construction and Company Limited for supplying earth to the rail line project.
During a visit on October 14, this correspondent saw that a roughly one-kilometre road was built filling up a piece of arable land and a canal in Rangapahar village to facilitate the transportation of earth.
The entrance to the road was blocked with a makeshift gate of corrugated sheets. This correspondent managed to pass through it with the help of a local and reach a spot of hill cutting.
“There was a big hill over there,” said Abu Shahed, a villager, pointing to a flattened space.
Around 15 to 20 hills existed at Rangapahar, adjacent to Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar highway. All of them are gone, he added.
Raseduzzaman Rasel, deputy general manager of Toma Construction, told The Daily Star they would need around eight crore cubic feet of earth in four phases for the rail track construction.
The company has signed a deal with a local named Md Elias, who is supposed to supply earth from Aziz Nagar of Lohagara, he said, adding they don’t know exactly where he brings it from.
This correspondent repeatedly called Md Elias and sent him text messages for comment. He neither received the calls nor responded to the texts.
There was a dumper truck with a nameplate of the railway ministry and Toma at the site of the railway line. Sensing an environment department action, project officials and labourers left, taking away the excavator and trucks, locals said.
In 2016, the railways authorities got the prime minister’s approval to cut hills for the construction of the rail track, according to official documents.
The ministry is allowed to raze 33 hills — 120 acres in total — at 15 spots of five reserve forests including Chunoti, Fasiakhali, Medakocchopiya, Machuyakhali and Napitkhali.
But the hills being flattened at Rangapahar does not fall under government approval as the area is recorded as khas land.
Contacted over the phone, Mofizur Rahman, project director for Dohazari-Cox’s Bazar railway line, said they were cutting hillsfor the rail track as per the government permission. But he has no knowledge about the other hills being razed.
He said the construction firm has hired locals to supply earth and they don’t have any control over where the earth comes from.
Though the hill cutting has been going on there for the last two years, the Chattogram region Department of Environment office did not have any knowledge about it until recently.
They, however, sent a team to the spot for inspection on October 16.
Mohammad Moazzom Hossain, director of DoE Chattogram region, admitted that there was negligence on their part.
“Firstly, it is tough to get news on such hill cutting as the spots are in remote areas. The moment we got the allegation from locals, I sent my team. They inspected and submitted a report. We will take action as per the law,” he said on October 18.
He added that they don’t have the required manpower to look after all affairs happening in the areas under their jurisdiction.
Afzarul Islam, assistant director of DoE Chattogram region, told The Daily Star that that he has never seen such a massive hill cutting.
“We have found around 2.2 crore cubic feet of hills have been flattened. Locals confirmed that the earth from the hills was being used for the rail track construction.”
Afzarul said he submitted the report of damage to higher authorities for further action.