In a leaked audio clip of the conversation between the duo, Awami League lawmaker Bahauddin Bahar is heard shouting at the official
Comilla 6 lawmaker AKM Bahauddin Bahar has allegedly threatened an official of the Department of Environment (DoE) with dire consequences for preparing a damage assessment report after inspecting a hill-cutting project by the Roads and Highways Department (RHD).
Shawkat Ara Koli, deputy director of DoE Comilla office, inspected the spot in the district’s Sadar upazila, where two contracting firms – M/S Hasan Techno Builders and M/S Haque Enterprise – were found to be razing around 114,333 cubic feet of a hill to the ground, to expand the existing road.
This is all being done under a project that the RHD is implementing.
Notably, the DoE’s Comilla Sadar (south) upazila office had recommended filing a case against the two contractors for cutting down hills.
Following the inspection, Awami League lawmaker AKM Bahauddin Bahar, who is believed to have close ties with the firms, called Koli over phone on Wednesday, asking her why she had prepared the report without consulting him.
Dhaka Tribune has obtained an audio clip of the conversation.
"Did you talk to me earlier about the report regarding the Lalmai road? … Why did you write against only us in the assessment report, and not against the RHD?” he was heard saying in the audio clip.
After the DoE official said she had written about the RHD in the assessment report, the MP rejected her claim, saying: “I have the report right now, in which you mentioned 114,333 cubic feet of hill was cut. How did you measure this, without me?”
Furious, he kept asking the DoE official how she had measured the damage.
“How did you measure this without having my signature?” he asked her for a third time, accusing her of misusing her authority.
“There is no scope of misusing power in Comilla... You have seen my good side, you have not seen my bad side yet,” shouted an outraged Bahar.
As the DoE official tried to explain herself, the MP dismissed her attempt to do so as “nonsense.”
“You don’t even know what to do and how. You should have had me present during the measurement... You have so much power, right?” he told her.
The clip ends with him telling Koli to “come to my office in 10 minutes.”
Later, at his office, the lawmaker threatened Koli to leave Comilla within 15 days, reports Bangla Tribune.
When contacted, DoE Chittagong Division Director Md Moazzam Hossain said: “According to the Environment Conservation Act, 1995, hill razing for the benefit of the state and its people is feasible – but only with prior clearance from the Department of Environment.”
He told Dhaka Tribune: “Protecting the environment is one of the top 10 priorities set by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina... Being a lawmaker, we expected him [Bahar] to behave more responsibly, as he is supposed to assist the DoE implement that agenda.”
When contacted on Thursday, MP Bahauddin Bahar confirmed the authenticity of the clip.
Admitting that he had called DoE official “nonsense,” he said he had shouted at her because he did not like irregularities.
“If calling her nonsense is a crime, then I am a criminal,” he said.
He further mentioned that he had a higher protocol than Koli’s superior official.
“What if she leaked the clip [of their conversation] without her boss’ consent?” Bahar asked, hinting that doing so was not only breaking with protocol, but also illegal.
Barrage of questions, threats
The following is the transcribed version of the 2:13 minute-long phone conversation between Bahauddin Bahar and Shawkat Ara Koli:
DD Koli: Hello, sir, this is the DD of the Department of Environment.
Bahar MP: Yes, about the report that you submitted...
MP: The report that you submitted — did you talk to me? Regarding the Lalmai road?
DD: Yes, sir, yes, sir.
MP: Why didn’t you submit anything about the Roads and Highways Department? Why didn’t you write against the Roads and Highways Department? Why did you write against us?
DD: No, no, we also wrote against the Roads and Highways Department, sir…
MP: No, you didn’t. I have the report with me now. In the report, you mentioned that we cut down 114,333 cubic feet of hill. How could you measure this without me?
DD: Sir, our measurement...
MP: How could you do it without me? I am one party concerned, you are another...
MP: How did you do the measurement alone, without me? Don’t you need my signature? You are abusing your power.
MP: There is no chance of abusing power in Comilla. You’ve only seen my good side; you haven’t seen my bad side yet.
MP: What sir? You absolute nonsense. I have to be present when you do the measurements. How much are you cutting — the measurement has to be done jointly.
MP: You have so much power, right? Say that you have so much power… I’ll lock your office… You undisciplined person...
DD: No, sir...
MP: Come to my office. You have to come to my office within 10 minutes. Do you understand what I’m saying?
DD: When? Today, sir?
MP: Within 10 minutes… 10 minutes… I’m giving you 10 minutes.
‘If it’s done for the sake of development, what’s the problem?’
Speaking to Bangla Tribune about the matter, lawmaker AKM Bahauddin Bahar said: “A road is being constructed under the RHD. Some parts of it are in the hills, some parts are outside. The RHD has floated the tender, and the work is going on accordingly.”
The MP maintained that cutting down hills to build roads was standard practice.
“Wherever there is a road in the hilly areas of the country, it is built by cutting down the hills. If a road goes through the middle of a hill, it is normal to cut down some part of it. If it is done for the sake of development, what’s the problem?” Bahar said.
It can only be called destruction of land if people cut down hills for business, he added.
Calling the contracting firms “innocent,” he continued: “... A new road isn’t being built; the old one is being widened. The contracting firms are working as per the design provided by the RHD. Then the RHD should have been reported too. But the DoE didn’t do that, which is why I yelled at them…”
Describing DD Koli as a corrupt individual, the MP said: “I’m not involved in any kind of corruption and I don’t tolerate anyone involved in corruption. Two organizations are involved with this project. The DoE has only recommended suing the contractors. Does that not mean there were irregularities here?"
“They [DoE] can file a case if hills are cut down for government projects. But what actions have they taken against the countless non-governmental organizations that are doing their work disregarding environmental laws? How many brick kilns have they closed down?” the Awami League MP said while speaking to Bangla Tribune.