Lalmai and Mainamati hills are an integral part of Cumilla's heritage. Now, however, the very existence of Lalmai is at risk due to the destruction of the hills. The project to widen the government road has hit in the heart of Lalmai hills. The contractor has already cut into 114,000 thousand cubic feet of the hills for the development of the 14 km road. According to a report of the Department of Environment published on 11 November, the project could have been completed, keeping the hills intact, if the concerned quarters were sincere. But it is not possible to recover the environmental and ecological damages caused by this project.
Mohammad Ahad Ullah, executive engineer of the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) in Cumilla, said that they do not know anything about the hill cutting. There is no approval to cut the hills in this project, he said.
Environmentalists say that the Lalmai hills, rich in invaluable heritage and biodiversity, are being destroyed. The soil was removed and sold in the name of various development projects. The hills are gradually turning into plain land.
The book Mainamati-Lalmai , published (revised edition) by the Department of Archeology in June 2015, states, the colour of the soil of these hills is red. The hills are covered with red sediment of the Pleistocene age, which is about 10 to 20 million years old. Hundreds of tourists come to see these hills every day.
On 12 December last year, the Roads and Highways Department started the development of 13.90 km long road from Pipulia in Comilla's Sadar Dakshin upazila through Lolbaria, Ratanpur, Chandimura to Magbari through Lalmai Hills. The project expenditure is Tk 357.3 million (35 crore 37 lakh). Earlier the width of this road was 3.6 meters. At present it is being increased to 5.5 meters. The work is expected to be completed on 11 June.
On 11 November, Shawkat Ara Koli, the deputy director of the environment department of Cumilla, visited the area. On 16 November, she submitted a report to the Chattogram divisional director Mohammad Moazzem Hossain. According to that report, a total of 114,330 cubic feet of soil has been cut while working on the project.
Shawkat Ara Koli told Prothom Alo that the hills are being cut illegally, defying the environment protection law. A recommendation has been made to file an enforcement case against the people and organisations responsible for this criminal act.
According to the report from the deputy director, hills have been cut in a 7km section of this 14km road. Hills have been cut up to 750 feet outside the proposed extension. And 5 to 50 feet high hills have been cut down in this area at a depth of 3-7 feet in some places and 10-14 feet in other places. In some parts, there have been landslides due to unplanned hill cutting.
Visiting the Bara Dharmapur area of Barpara union, the hills were seen cut into from the top to the bottom. The hills have collapsed in different parts. Trees and shrubs are lying here and there. The bamboos are leaning to one side. There were signs of the hills being sliced into with machines in the Schoolpara area.
The locals said that the contractors of this project, Messer’s Hasan Techno Builders and Messer’s Haque Enterprise, had cut into the steep hill in three parts for widening the road in Bara Dharmapur Schoolpara area. However, Imamuzzaman Chowdhury, a representative of the contractor, said, "Some hills collapsed while digging a box at a depth of three feet. We did not cut down any hills.”
Mosleh Uddin Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Environment Movement (BAPA), Cumilla district branch, said that soil was being cut from the Lalmai hills year after year, sometimes for four-lane highways, sometimes for railroads. This time the steep hill was cut for a road project. They have repeatedly approached the administration to protect the Lalmai hills from being destroyed. But no action is taken in this regard.