Artists protest against the tree felling along Satmasjid Road in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, on 30 May, 2023
Sazid Hossain


When police blocked the people who were marching towards Nagar Bhaban (Dhaka South City Corporation headquarters) protesting the felling of trees on the road divider along Satmasjid Road in Dhanmondi in the capital on 21 May, they took position at Bangabazar intersection. The movement was building up for a few months. The felling of trees started in January apparently for some “development work” but in the wake of the movement the act was suspended. People resumed the movement as the DSCC authorities started felling the trees again in the first week of May. As part of that movement the protesters demanded a meeting with the city mayor, a people’s representative, but the mayor did not appear before the people. Instead, DSCC’s chief executive officer and chief estate officer met the protesters. Following a meeting, the protesters said they did not get any clear message from the city corporation. Already 10 days have gone by. No such message has still been conveyed to the people. The demonstration has been going on unabated.

The protest movement has a wider significance as recent researches have been suggesting that planting more trees in urban settings to “lower summer temperatures could decrease deaths directly linked to hot weather and heatwaves by a third. It has also been found that increasing tree cover to 30 per cent would shave off 0.4 degrees Celsius, on average, during hot summer months,” said a report of The Lancet, a highly acclaimed general medical journal. When researchers are putting emphasis on planting more and more trees every day to increase foliage cover, the authorities of one of our city corporations are hell-bent on cutting those. The mayor, though, said on 10 May that the city corporation has been planning to plant some 10,000 saplings in the coming monsoon. But the protesters said to begin with cutting the trees was a completely unnecessary act. The development work could have been completed without felling the trees.

Different studies have been revealing precarious situation of air, water and other aspects of natural environment in Dhaka and in Bangladesh from different perspectives in every few days. The temperature in Dhaka city and Bangladesh is on the rise. Two recent studies said the summer has increased by 2-3 days between 1979 and 2021 and with this people’s exposure to Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). WBGT is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. Such exposure to high temperature for more than six hours at a stretch can have long term harmful effect for internal organs of a human being.

But heat is not the only thing. The city is also making global headlines for its air pollution every other day. When tree plantation is the call of the hour, it seems the government policymakers are bent on accomplishing conspicuous development activities even by felling trees, by destabilising natural environment. Different ministers of incumbent cabinet said this in a veiled manner.

A few months ago cooperatives minister Tazul Islam said our country is small but has a large population. So our foliage cover would not be like other larger countries. Then on 7 May foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen speaking at a media conference said Bhutan doesn’t want to endanger their country environmentally as their country is a happy one, said a BSS report. Does the foreign minister mean that Bangladesh will endanger the environment within its geographical territory for the sake of development, if necessary?

We could have termed such a speech as a one-off incident if one minister had said this, but is there any scope to say so?  Who would appreciate or enjoy this development if the people are suffering from different types of diseases due to breathing poisonous air, due to drinking poisonous water, and suffer from ailment due to excessive surface heat? A recent research by a BUET team found that Dhaka has become a ‘heat island’. The temperature in the city is higher than the surrounding areas, which have more tree cover. Land surface temperature inside Dhaka is also different between the areas that have more foliage coverage like Botanical Garden in Mirpur and those lacking it like Farmgate area.


We can recall what foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said on 22 May. Though the context was different, the inner meaning of the words conveys messages for other contexts too. Addressing a press conference, he said, “Politicians say many things that carry a warning to many. I cannot say how you would explain that literally. But there are many issues at times that warn you.” It's not that Abdul Momen is a mere layman in using sentences full of political meaning. Before being appointed as the foreign minister of Bangladesh he was the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations for six long years, from 2009 to 2015. Tazul Islam and Abdul Momen would not deny they are politicians, which suggests their words also carry deeper messages other than apparent ones. And, they are people in the loop.


It’s not that only politicians’ words that are full of such meanings; their actions, intonations, glances are also a language. Sometimes not taking any action also conveys message to their followers and the people. So the tree felling in Dhanmondi and the mayor’s decision not to meet the protesters are deeply interlinked with this grandly orchestrated thought about ostentatious development activities.