The coastal forest department has 150 acres of land at Uttar Salimpur and Tulatoli mouza. The forest department has already served two notices to Kohinoor Steel to leave the forest land. After issuing final notice, they will go for eviction.

This time Kohinoor Steel has got the lease and the owner is Kashem's wife Kohinoor Akhter.

The district administration leased five acres of forest land showing it under Uttar Salimpur mouja of Sitakunda in the name of Kohinoor on 14 February this year.

Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) has served legal notices to different parties including the district administration, the forest department and Kohinoor on 8 September.

The forest department alleges most of the areas are in the Tulatoli mouza although the area has been shown in Uttar Salimpur area in the documents. Tulatoli is not a declared shipbreaking factories area. As a result, the district administration has tactfully leased five acres of land of the forest department's 'Keurabon' showing the land is situated in the Uttar Salimpr mouza.

The coastal forest department has 150 acres of land at Uttar Salimpur and Tulatoli mouja. The forest department has already served two notices to Kohinor Steel to leave the forest land. After issuing final notice, they will go for eviction.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Chattogram coastal forest land divisional officer Mohammad Abdur Rahman said most of the leased land is in the Tulatoli mouza. It is mainly the land of forest department. The forest department sent several letters to the district administration after they came to know about the lease of forest land.

However, they did not respond to the letters. A letter has been sent for cancelling the lease mentioning the court order. They didn't respond to this letter too. However, the court gave an order asking the district administration to protect forest land.

The district administration has leased the same area ignoring the directives of the court. In the verdict of earlier case, the court issued an order asking to refrain from activities of forest destruction. The court also asked to shift all activities of shipbreaking. This lease is tantamount to court order. We have started the legal procedures over the matter
BELA's lawyer Hassnul Banna

On behalf of the district administration, Sitakunda upazila upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) Shahadat Hossain and assistant commissioner (land) Ashraful Alam signed in the deed of the lease to Kohinoor Still while Kohinoor Akhter was in the second party.

AC land Ashraful Alam declined to make any comment.

UNO Shahadat Hossain said, "Kohinoor has not been given the lease of the land, the High Court gave an order in this regard. We have preserved the seven acres of land of BBC Steel. After preserving that land, out of it, five acres of land have been leased. We have to look into whether they have occupied new forest land out of five acres of land. I can't remember whether the area is in Uttar Salimpur mouza or Tulatoli."

About the matter, Chattogram deputy commissioner Mohammad Mominur Rahman said he can't remember right now and has to see the file.

While visiting the spot, Foujdarhat ghat is about one kilometer north from Golchattar of Foujdarhat toll road. Forest is in Tulatoli mouza to the north of this ghat. Kohinoor Steel has started the process to set up factories by fencing the forest land there. Tress have been felled to construct the road. There are many trees inside the fenced boundary. A signboard has been put up saying this is a restricted area for shipbreaking factories. Guards from the company are in constant vigilance.

Abul Kashem claimed, "BBC Steel has appealed against the High Court order. The district administration has given the approval. The area is not in the Tulatoli mouza. I have planted some trees there. Now I have fenced the area."

According to the documents, an application was filed for 10 acres of land in the name of Kohinoor Steel in 2020 after the cancellation of BBC Steel lease. At the time, Sitakunda UNO Milton Roy and AC land Mohammad Rashedul Islam gave the negative opinion on the application in February of 2021.

They reminded that the area has to be conserved in accordance with the High Court order. Later they were transferred from Sitakunda. At the same time, the district administration wanted to know whether the forest department had any objection against the lease. But the forest department didn't respond. SM Golam Moula was divisional forest officer (DFO) at the time.

Current DFO Abdur Rahman said it is not understandable why the reply of the letter was not given. However, objection was given against BBC Steel earlier.

Sources said the district administration leased 7.10 acres of land in Tulatoli mouza of Uttar Salimpur to BBC Steel in 2019. At the time, the forest department objected to it. BELA filed a case for cancelling the lease in the beginning of 2019. 

In the verdict of the case on 2 January 2020, the lease process was declared out of legal jurisdiction and legally baseless. In the order, the district administration and the forest department were asked to protect the forest land. But instead of that, lease has been given again.

About fresh lease and legal notice, BELA's lawyer Hasanul Banna said, "The district administration has leased the same area ignoring the directives of the court. In the verdict of earlier case, the court issued an order asking to refrain from activities of forest destruction. The court also asked to shift all shipbreaking activities. This lease is tantamount to a court order. We have started the legal procedures on the matter."

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.