In Bagerhat’s Sharankhola, a competition is underway to set up an illegal saw mill without a license within five kilometers of the Sundarbans. On 31 December 2020, the upazila administration and the forest department launched a joint operation and shut down five saw mills in different areas of the upazila adjacent to the forest. Later, five separate cases were filed against the owners of the five mills under the Saw Mills Act on behalf of the Sharankhola Range of the Forest Department. Although the mills were closed for some time after the lawsuit was filed, the owners of the saw mills have again started cutting wood by challenging the law.
Abdul Haque Akan’s son, a resident of Upazila Rayenda Bazar area, about the recent illegal saw mill. Sohag Akon lodged multiple complaints in different departments including Bagerhat Deputy Commissioner, Divisional Forest Officer and Upazila Nirbahi Officer.
Although these illegal saw mills were set up overnight in many educational institutions, including populated areas, the administration and the forest department did not seem to take any initiative.
According to the investigation, even though there is no provision to set up a saw mill within 10 km from the Sundarbans, the influential people of the forest area are not abiding by it. There are allegations that these mills are being set up overnight by managing some dishonest officials and employees of the forest department and administration. In addition, due to the sawmills in the forest-adjacent areas, valuable resources of the Sundarbans including Sundari, Gewa, Garan and many other species of social forestry have already been uprooted in the last 20 years. However, the upazila administration has a committee to protect the environment, including the forest, but it has no activities.
On condition of anonymity, some residents said that the owners of the mill started cutting wood of various species, including Sundari, by setting up a mill overnight without any permission from the Forest Department, Administration and Environment Department. However, because the owners are influential, no one dares to speak out against them. They are secretly smuggling valuable wood of different species of forest by cutting it. Besides, they have been chopping different types of wood for a long time by placing these mills at the tip of the administration’s nose within four-five kilometers of the Sundarbans. Despite the lawsuit, they have not stopped. Even recently, Nasebunia adjacent to Kasemul Ulum Qaumi Madrasa of the upazila, Selim Hawaldar adjacent to Singh-Bari, Tafalbari College, Md. Resident of the area adjacent to South Malia Rajapur School. Although many residents of the upazila have set up multiple saw mills illegally in the last one year, including Chagir Akon, no action has been taken against them by the forest department and administration for mysterious reasons.
In this regard, the treasurer of the management committee, including the Sundarbans. Farid Khan Mintu said, “I do not understand how the saw mills are set up outside the rules.” The administration, including the forest department, needs to be tougher to rein in the influential cycle.
On the other hand, when asked about this, the owner of the sawmill, Md. Alaul Ahsan Selim, a trader of Tafalbari Bazar in the upazila, said that it is not right to ignore the law or to set up sawmills illegally. Although we do not have any documents, we have already applied to various departments for a license.
Assistant Forest Conservator (SF) of Sharankhola Range in the Eastern Division of the Sundarbans. Joynal Abedin said that it is strictly forbidden to set up saw mills or any kind of mills or factories within ten kilometers of the protected forest. Even after that, some influential people in different areas of Sharankhola Upazila have been setting up saws for a long time. The owners have started the mills in violation of the law even after shutting down five saw mills recently. Action will be taken against them again.
Sharankhola Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Sardar Mostafa Shahin said they had disregarded the law by closing the mills and reopening them even after filing a case. Action will be taken against all new and old co-owners. ##