Forest department officials seized logs at a sawmill during a raid in Kulaura upazila of Moulvibazar recently. The photo was taken at Chowdhury Bazar. -AA
Twenty-six illegally set up sawmills are contributing to the shrinking of trees in Bhatera Hill and Harargoj reserve forests in Kulaura upazila under the district. Sawmill (licence) Rules, 1998, prohibits any such factory within 10 kilometres of any reserve forest but most of these sawmills have been set up within only 100-200 metres of the forests, forest officials said.
There are allegations that the illegal sawmill owners are running their business in exchange of large monthly payments to local influential people and a section of forest officials. The sawmill owners, in collusion with some employees of the forest department, have been looting trees in Bhatera forest, said a resident of Bhatera village, seeking anonymity.
"Of the 54 sawmills in the Kulaura upazila, only 28 have taken licenses from the forest department. We seized logs from three sawmills on October 10," Abul Kashem, range officer of Kulaura Range office. He declined to make any comment about forest officials' alleged involvement in the tree felling.
The 26 sawmills are posing threat to forests as well as local wildlife, said Md Nurul Mohaiman Milton, general secretary of environmental journalists forum.
Chinu Mia, a license holder sawmill owner at Hingajia Bazar in Kulaura upazila, said they are incurring huge loss because the illegal sawmill owners are running their business near forests.
Mustafizur Rahman, former assistant director of the Department of Environment (DoE) in Sylhet, said the government is losing revenue as many sawmills in the area run without clearance from the DoE.
"A section of locals forming a nexus with some forest department officials are engaged in stealing trees from reserve forests.''
-Selim Ahmed, Kulaura, Moulvibazar
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