CHATTOGRAM: Although the authorities evict structures from risky hill slopes every year, the number of people living there is increasing gradually thanks to a lack of a permanent solution to the long-drawn problem.
People, mainly from the lower-income group, live on the risky hill slopes after failing to get affordable accommodations in the city.But a vested quarter including politically influential ones is making brisk business by erecting illegal structures on the government hilly land and renting those out to the poor people.
Though criminal cases were filed and many imprisoned for such activities earlier, this practice couldn’t be stopped.
The district administration takes different temporary measures including eviction and disconnection of illegal utility services to discourage housing on the hill slopes at the beginning of the rainy season every year.
But, the efforts go in vain as the encroachers return to the risky spots immediately after the drives.
The committees formed after landslides on different occasions made a number of recommendations like rehabilitating vulnerable families in safer places, providing them with financial assistance, evacuation by hill owners, disconnecting illegal power, gas and water supply lines, filing criminal cases against the illegal occupants and protecting the hills through eviction and afforestation.
With most of the recommendations remained unimplemented, the administration now keeps its responsibility within evicting the occupants during the rainy season.Mentionable, torrential rains triggered a series of massive landslides in the hilly districts, burying many dwellings, when the dwellers were sleeping on June 13 in 2017.
A total of 164 persons were killed in the landslides in five districts including Chattogram, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, Bandarban, and Cox’s Bazar.
Of them, 120 people were killed in Rangamati, 35 in Chattogram, six in Bandarban, two in Cox’s Bazar and one in Khagrachhari.
The Chattogram district administration identified some 835 families living most vulnerably in risky foothills and pockets of 17 hills in the city and its suburbs in 2019.
Of the hills, 10 are privately owned while the rest seven are owned by Chattogram City Corporation, Railway, Chattogram WASA, Public Works Department and National Housing Authority, said sources.
Some of the families were also evicted on different occasions. But the actual number of people living in the risky areas is much higher than the number identified by the district administration, they said.
Eight other hills were also detected as risky for living after the construction of the six-kilometre Bayezid-Faujderhat link Road in the city.
Over 500 structures were developed centring the hills in the last two years. Movement of traffic through the road also kept suspended to ward off accidents in landslides during rain.
Besides, hundreds of houses were also developed at the risky slopes and pockets of the hills located in the city’s Akbar Shah Colony, Motijharna, Tankir Pahar and Batali Hill among others.
The district administration carried out a drive against the risky settlements on the north side of the Bayezid Link Road on Monday.
A total of 370 structures were demolished in the drive led by six executive magistrates, said sources.
While visiting the spot, it was seen that most of the tenants of the rented houses are day-labourers, rickshaw pullers and garment workers by profession.
Akter Hossain, a day-labourer, said they stay there even after knowing the danger.
“We cannot afford accommodation in the city centre for higher rent. Having no alternative, we stay at the risky place with family members,” he said.
Akter, however, claimed that they leave the house during heavy rain.
Department of Environment, Chattogram (Metro) Director and the Hill Management Sub Committee Head Md Nurullah Noori said they were evicting the risky establishment from the hill slopes to avert recurrence of casualty in landslide further.
However, he said they don’t have the list of the persons who developed the illegal structures in the risky slopes.
The DoE boss observed that the lands can be protected through afforestation after recovering from the occupants.
Contacted, newly appointed Chattogram Divisional Commissioner and the Hill Management Committee Convenor Md Kamrul Hasan told the Daily Sun that they were trying to take permanent measures in a planned way in this regard.
“We will review the recommendations made earlier and discuss with all the agencies concerned for the permanent solution to the crisis,” he said.
“Any death in landslides is tragic and we will try to address the crisis so that none becomes the loser,” he added.