Ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif has set up a shrimp farm close to the Sundarbans, violating the environment law.
Hanif established the shrimp farm on 35 acres of land at Sutarkhali union of Dacope in Khulna although the law prohibits commercial activities and establishments within 10 kilometers of the Sundarbans, the UNESCO-recognised world heritage site.
The farm started commercially last year.
He also built two-storey and one-storey buildings there.
As per the environment conservation act, environment impact assessment and environment clearance certificates have been made mandatory for shrimp farms.
There had been a pond and a Kali temple within the boundaries of the farm. The pond has been filled up.
A channel was dug in an embankment to bring in saline water for the shrimp farm from the river Poshur of the Sundarbans.
Quest Aquaculture & Fish Processing Limited and Bangladesh Bank and Investment Corporation of Bangladesh (ICB) jointly set up the farm, according to a sign board at main gate of the farm.
Two state organisations equally invested in the project.
BB and ICB officials said the funds were allocated but not disbursed as yet.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, director of department of environment of Khulna Habibul Haque Khan said the environment clearance certificate is mandatory for shrimp enclosures on over five acres of land.
The official said the Quest Aquaculture & Fish Processing Limited has not applied for the certificate.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif told Prothom Alo, “I did not know the environment clearance certificate is required to set up shrimp enclosures."
Those engaged in the management of the farm would not know it, he said
"I have asked them to apply for the environment clearance certificate".
About filling up the pond, Hanif said the water of the pond was not safe. A water treatment plant is being set up there to supply safe water to the villagers, he added.
About the Kali temple, Hanif said a temple is being built outside the shrimp farm.
As per section 5 of the Environment Conservation Act, 1999, the government declared 10 kilometers around Sundarbans an ecologically critical area (ECA).
On 18 January 2015, the government issued a gazette notification, demarcating the ECA of Sundarbans. Hanif's farm is located within the ECA.
Following the directives of the prime minister office on August of 2016, a list of 34 industries and establishments in the ECA was drawn up. Mahbubul Alam's farm was dropped from the list.
During a visit in June, it was found that an eight foot boundary wall and barbed wire fence was put up around the farm. A high-powered generator has been set up there for uninterrupted supply of electricity to the farm. The generator was creating loud noise in the area, the residents said.
A poster pasted on the wall near the main gate of the farm welcomes residents of Dacope on behalf of Hanif and Khulna district vice president of Sramik League Farid Ahmed.
Farid Ahmed was staying at the farm. He told Prothom Alo that he looked after the farm. He also said the environment clearance certificate was not required to establish shrimp farms.
Eminent wildlife conservationist Mohammad Ali Reza Khan said, "We will lose the Sundarbans fast if we establish different types of industries and shrimp enclosures there.”
“How will the Sundarbans survive if lawmakers violate laws?” he asked.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam