St Martin’s: Even law enforcers don't bother about DoE clearance

Police officers mess in Saint Martin's Island
Jewel Shil

Not only private hotels and resorts were built on the Saint Martin’s Island illegally, but the administration, law enforcement agencies and security forces also constructed establishments on the island, flouting the rules. Built with public money, some of these establishments host government officials on their holidays while in other cases are rented to the tourists.

The Department of Environment (DoE) in 1999 DOE declared the island an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA).  As per section 19 of the ECA Management Rules 2016, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, the class of land of any ECA cannot be changed without permission of the DoE.

Also Read

DoE sources said construction of establishments is categorized as changing the class of land. This is why the construction of establishments in the Saint Martin’s Island is illegal. In the island, there are more than 230 hotels, resorts, cottages and restaurants, either one-storey or multi-storey. At least 130 of these establishments were constructed in the last two years and construction of more than 30 resorts and cottages are in progress. The DOE said no clearance was issued for building even a single tourism establishment. The government organisations constructed their buildings on the island without taking clearance from the DoE.

The district administration has built an establishment named ‘Island Management and Information Center, Saint Martin’s’. This is actually a bungalow. The houses inside the bungalow are built of wood and of thatched roof. But the toilets attached with each room are built with brick, sand and cement. The bungalow has 10 rooms.

Locals said the bungalow, with all amenities of a resort, is located on the east end of the island in last December. Previously there was shed of the district administration in the place. Bangladesh Tourism Board and Teknaf upazila administration funded the construction of the bungalow.

Government officials stay at this bungalow on their holidays. The rent ranges from Tk 1500 to Tk 2000--three to four times lower than the rent of other resorts in the island.

Also Read

Asked if the establishment had clearance from the DoE, Teknaf’s upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) Md Kamruzzaman told Prothom Alo that he does not know about the matter since he was not posted here during the construction.

Parvez Chowdhury was the UNO during the construction of the establishment. He is now senior assistant secretary of the office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC). He told Prothom Alo that the clearance of DoE was not taken in that sense during the construction of the bungalow.  He said that the establishment can be evicted any time.

The district administration built an established named ‘Island management and information center, Saint Martin’s’
Prothom Alo

He said DoE clearance is needed for construction of pucca structures but many people have built constructions there without taking permission. Even the three-storey building of Bangladesh Police was constructed without any clearance from DoE, he added.

Parvez Chowdhury said the island management and information center was built there after recovering illegally grabbed khas land at the behest of the district administration.

Police administration built a three-storey Saint Martin’s police outpost building in the north end of the island two years ago. This was named ‘Police Officer’s Mess’. There are 10 rooms in the building. The police officials visiting the island stay there. The rooms are also rented to the general tourists. Special discount is available if the tourists have reference from any police officials. The rent of the rooms ranges from Tk 8000 to Tk 15,000.

DoE sources said police administration did not seek the approval for building the bungalow in the island. Police headquarters’ comment was not available on the issue.

Mohammad Shamim, who is in charge of room management of the police officer’s mess, told Prothom Alo that many tourists want to hold night in the police outpost deeming it safer. The rooms are not allotted to whoever wants, he added.

DoE sources said police administration did not seek the approval for building the bungalow in the island. Police headquarters’ comment was not available on the issue. Saint Martin’s police outpost’s inspector (in charge) Sudipto Shekhar Bhattacharya told Prothom Alo that the policemen deployed in the outpost mostly remains busy maintaining law and order. Another person looks after the rent and allotment issues.

Cox’s Bazar zila parishad also built a two-storey bungalow in the island 12 years ago. The bungalow was leased three years ago. Kamal Hossain, overseer of the bungalow, told Prothom Alo that they rent some rooms on the first floor. The rent of each room ranges from Tk 2,000 to Tk 3,500.

Bangladesh Coast Guard is constructing several two-storey buildings in Purbapara of the island. During a visit to the island on 7 to 9 and then 27 February, brick and sand bags were seen in several places in the east end of the island. Brick and sand brought from Teknaf by trawlers are being transported by labourers to other places. No one is there to ask where these are being taken.

Abdul Malek, a resident of Majpara in the island, told Prothom Alo that bringing any construction material to the island requires permission from the district administration. A portion of the construction materials meant for construction of government establishment is sold at much higher prices to the owners of hotel and resort. Later, these construction materials are used in building establishments by private entities.