Land around the Sundarbans is being sold as plots for heavy industries, threatening the ecological balance of this natural world heritage site.
A ten kilometre area surrounding the Sundarbans was declared an ecologically critical area (ECA). However, the environment ministry had already issued permission earlier to set up 186 industrial projects there. Among them, 140 industries got permission in nine upazilas of Khulna, Bagerhat, and Satkhira with the final clearance from the department.
Other than that, 21 industries of Mongla Export Processing Zone (EPZ), 21 industries of Mongla Port Industrial Area, and five other industries near the port area also got the permission. And 16 other organisations have applied for the clearance from the department of environment.
Meanwhile, there are signboards marking the shrimp enclaves and farmlands along the Khulna-Mongla road with the names of the land owners or the industries. The food directorate is also building a silo or big food storehouse at Joymonir Ghol village along the Sundarbans.
Prothom Alo correspondent also witnessed a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) plant of Index Group in Dwigraj union in Mongla area.
The department of environment in its report said the plant of Index Group is within 10 kilometer radius of the Sundarbans. The group also has several industrial plots at Joymoni village which is within two kilometers of the Sundarbans.
Index Group director Ehsan Tanim said, “Our industrial plot begins from 9.8 kilometers of the Sundarbans. Our factory is outside 10 kilometers of the forest.”
The Index Group director also said, “We won’t build any industry within the radius of the forest. Meanwhile, Beximco Petroleum does the marketing of our LP gas.”
The prime minister’s office asked for the list of industries to be built in Sundarban’s ECA following the report of Prothom Alo on 9 August about the industries in Sundarbans.
Former director of the department of environment’s Khulna office, Mallik Anwar Hossain led a survey of the department about the industries in the Sundarban area and submitted the list to the PM office along with a documentary.
The survey team also had meeting with the local and environmentalists from Khulna University before submitting the report to PM office. The department of environment (DoE) officials also had meetings with the industry owners and officials.
In the report DoE made some special recommendations for the factories in Mongla EPZ and Mongla industrial areas to continue their operation following some conditions.
The DoE in the report also recommended that the No Objection Certificates (NOC) of the shrimp enclaves and hatcheries in the area should be renewed.
Khulna’s DoE director Habibul Haque Khan said, “We have sent our report to the higher authorities and action will be taken following their instructions.”
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 brought almost 200 acres of land in the area and took permission for the DoE to establish Sunmarine Shipyard in the area.
However he denied building any shipyard in the area.
During an on field visit, the land was found to be used as a shrimp farm after two people took the land on lease.
Hanif said, “We’ve changed our decision of building shipyard in the area following government’s order to declare the area as ECA. I’ve already took a down payment to sell the land.”
Eminent wildlife conservationist Mohammad Ali Reza Khan said once the Sundarbans was expanded till 10,000 square kilometers in Khalna, Bagerhar and Jessore area. Presently, the forest remains only 6,000 square kilometers in Bangladesh part, he added.
Reza Khan said government is trying to save the 10 kilometers area surrounding the Sundarbans by declaring it ECA.
There should not be any industries in that area or else government’s plan to save the Sundarbans will be in vain, he added.
*The piece originally came up in Prothom Alo print edition is rewritten in English by Saimul Huda