Built barely six years back, the watchtower at Ratargul Swamp Forest, one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, in Gowainghat upazila of Sylhet, has been closed to tourists as it has turned risky.
Environmentalists said the forest department built the tower inside the forest in 2014, defying their objections and now it has got tilted and turned risky within six years of its construction.
The department on Sunday came up with an order of ban, making it off-limits to tourists. Forest department officials said a signboard in this regard was hung up after the ban had been imposed.
The tower, in fact, turned risky a long time ago and the department put up a signboard instructing that only 4-5 people can climb the watchtower together, said Saad Uddin Ahmed, forester of Sylhet Forest Division.
“But no one follows the rule. Accidents may happen any time. So, we’ve closed the watchtower to tourists from today until further notice,” said the official.
Set up on an area of 504.50 acres, Ratargul Swamp Forest was declared as a ‘Reserve Forest’ in 1973.
The forest caught the attention of tourists after reports run by a few media outlets in 2012.
Hundreds of people then started visiting the spot every day to enjoy its unique beauty and biodiversity.
Aiming to promote tourism, the department constructed the watchtower and several other structures in the forest spending Tk 90.62 lakh, ignoring protests by environmentalists.
The environmentalists had warned that the tower would increase the number of tourists inside the forest which would destroy its environment and biodiversity.
At one stage, the construction work on the tower was halted twice in the face of the protests, but it was later completed and opened to tourists.
The Bangladesh Bureau Of Mineral Development (BMD) plans to set up the country's first 'geological museum' at Jaflong in Gowainghat upazila of Sylhet to stop stone extraction in the Ecologically Critical Area (ECA).
BMD has already started the process as Gowainghat Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Nazmus Shakib confirmed the matter.
The BMD informed the Gowainghat Upazila administration about the plan in a letter last week in the wake of preparations to stop the illegal stone extraction by putting up signboards with the instructions of the High Court.
According to the Gowainghat Upazila administration, in 2012, the High Court directed Jaflong to be declares an ECA, in response to an application by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).
A notification was issued on 18 February 2015 declaring Jaflong an ECA and on January 11, 2016, the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources conferred 'geological heritage' status on Jaflong. In this, 22.59 acres of land in Jaflong was declared as reserved area.
Meanwhile, an organisation called M/S Jalalabad Lime Manufacturers and Trading Association, in a letter dated August 17, 2020 claimed that they took acquisition of the protected area in Jaflong in 1972.
An official letter on the establishment of a geological museum said that 25.59 acres of land have been declared a geological heritage in the national interest for the protection of open rock, limestone and for purposes of research.
Signed by BMD Director General Mohammad Zafar Ullah, the letter said an international standard geological museum will be built on that land.
Any other organization including Jalalabad Lime Manufacturers and Trading Association should refrain from quarrying in the area specified, it said.
A Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) outpost is likely to be damaged if stones are quarried in and around Sonatila in Jaflong.
In the interests of national security and towards implementing the development plan adopted by the government, BMD is also preparing to deal with any legal issues that may arise.
Apart from being a tourist destination, the Jaflong region of Sylhet is very important for its geological history and heritage and to geologists, the area is already known as the ‘geological museum’ of the country.
On a hill next to the Sangram BGB camp on the banks of the Dauki River, there are layers of very old sedimentary rocks, including layers of limestone, which are found nowhere else in Bangladesh. These rock layers are very important for oil and gas and mineral resources exploration and for research.
All the educational institutions in Bangladesh were shut down in March 2020 when Covid-19 hit the country, a move hailed by students and guardians alike.
Six months into the pandemic, all the educational institutions sans Qawmi madrasahs remain closed, but the parents and guardians of those same students are now divided over the extended closure.
After identifying the first cases of Covid-19 on March 8, the government announced the closure of all the educational institutions across the country on March 16. On August 27, the closure was extended up to October 3.
Zobaida Akhter, a housewife and resident of South Banasree, says her two sons studying in primary and secondary grades. She thinks the extension of this unscheduled holidays will only hamper the academic activities of students.
“Of course, when schools were shut down initially, I was happy to know my children are a bit safer. They’re still continuing to study from home through online and television classes but it’s not a permanent solution,” she told UNB.
Shahin Ahmed who has a daughter reading in the fifth grade said although studying at home without the direct guidance of teachers is not enough but it is safer than reopening.
“Those of us who’re adults going out with a lot of preparations but children hardly follow the rules of hygiene. So, by no means the schools should be reopened now,” he said.
The guardians of those students who were to appear at the Higher School Certificate Examination (HSC) this year are facing even greater mental pressure.
One of them, Ajmal Hussain whose daughter is an examinee from Dhaka Board told UNB that the sooner the exam takes place the better. “The mental stress she’s suffering has now started affecting the whole family.”
But, many others think there should be no exams until the virus threat is neutralised in one way or the other.
“There’s no guarantee of my son’s life once he catches the virus while attending the HSC exams. The exams should remain postponed until the situation improves,” said Shahida Akter, mother of another HSC examinee, from Barishal.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has assured multiple times that a notice would be issued at least 10 days before the HSC exams begin.
While talking to UNB, public relations officer of the Education Ministry Mohammad Abul Khair said a decision whether the educational institutes should reopen will come by the end of September.
“Since the educational institutions are closed till October 3, we’ll monitor the situation before that, and a decision may be taken by the end of this month,” he told UNB.
He said no specific date has been set yet for the decision. “It’s still undecided exactly when the decision may be given.”
Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam on Monday said the Education Ministry was thinking separately about reopening schools and colleges.
He said the matter to take the decision on reopening has been left to the ministries concerned.
Anwarul Islam said the decision would be taken by the relevant ministries, not any central body.
On September 8, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education released a guideline for running schools maintaining proper health protocols amid the risk of coronavirus infections.
The guideline has been prepared as part of overall planning about public health and education. It will be applied once a concrete decision is made by the higher authorities over school reopening.
It has been formulated as per directives from the Prime Minister’s Office, Cabinet Division, and Health Services Division, in addition to WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and CDC (USA).
Like other pets, birds can also touch people’s lives with a sense of wonder, love and empathy. These often visually spectacular creatures are also part of a lucrative trade.
Fazlul Karim, a Bagerhat-based industrialist, has set up a commercial breeding farm for domestic and foreign birds named 'Evergreen Bird Park and Resort’ in Utkul village of Bagerhat Sadar Upazila. The farm has already hatched chicks from the eggs of various species of exotic birds.
According to Fazlul Karim, birds are a big industry and it is possible to even earn huge amounts of foreign currency by exporting exotic birds.
His farm has a wide variety of birds from home and abroad, including the Sulphur-crested cockatoo, Bluegold Macaw, African Gray Parrot, Green-wing Macaw, Nicobar Pigeon, Sun Conure, Jenday Conure and Peacock.
Of all the species of birds here, a pair of Sulphur-crested cockatoo costs about Tk 8,00,000 and a pair of Green-wing macaws costs about Tk 4,50,000.
This is the first time in Asia that a baby has recently hatched from a Sulfur-crested cockatoo egg on this farm.
Fazlul Karim thinks that the baby hatched from the sulfur cockatoo eggs because his farm has been able to provide a suitable breeding environment for males and females. About half a hundred chicks have hatched from the eggs of eight species of exotic birds on the farm in the meantime.
The farm has a total of 150 birds of 18 species from home and abroad at present. The farm itself consists of 12 large sheds, 68 rooms, and 665 cages for sheltering 1,000 birds.
The food list of these birds includes apples, oranges, malts, grapes, mangoes, bananas, wheat, maize, almonds, peanuts, various fruit seeds and a variety of vegetables.
Fazlul Karim set up ‘Evergreen’ in 2013 on 50 bighas of land. Hailing from Bagerhat Sadar, he graduated from Khulna BL College with a degree in Bangla Literature.
He told UNB that Bangladesh has a suitable environment for rearing exotic birds and it is possible to earn foreign exchange by exporting birds abroad.
At the same time, millions can be earned by producing and selling bird food.
Bagerhat District Animal Resources Officer Md Lutfur Rahman said that there are many rare species of birds in Evergreen farm.
“The farm has been set up here by creating a forest-like environment. Separate nests have been made for each pair of birds to facilitate bird breeding,” Lutfur said.
Lutfur Rahman confirmed that Fazlul Karim has set up the farm with a proper license and many people are thinking of starting similar farms after seeing Evergreen’s example.
The government will pay an estimated Tk 2,256.7 billion as interest on loans in the next three fiscals including the current one.
Of the amount, Tk 638 billion will be paid in 2020-21, Tk 748.9 billion in 2021-22 and Tk 869.8 billion in 2022-23.
An official document showed that the government has allocated Tk 582.5 billion for paying the interest for the running fiscal on loan taken from domestic resources. The amount is Tk 680.8 billion for the next fiscal and Tk 788.9 billion for 2022-23.
For interest on loans taken from external sources, the government will pay Tk 55.3 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal, Tk 68.1 billion in 2021-22, and Tk 80.9 billion in 2022-23.
The government in 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscals paid Tk 309.7 billion, Tk 331.1 billion, Tk 353.8 billion, Tk 417.7 billion, Tk 494.6 billion and Tk 576.6 billion respectively as interest of loans.
Of the amount, Tk 294.4 billion, Tk 314.7 billion, Tk 335.4 billion, Tk 381.6 billion, Tk 460.1 billion and Tk 528 billion were paid for domestic loans for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively. Tk 15.4 billion, Tk 16.5 billion, Tk 18.4 billion, Tk 36.1 billion, Tk 34.5 billion and Tk 48.7 billion were paid for foreign loans' interest of those stipulated fiscals.
According to the document, due to the higher amount of concessional loans, Bangladesh is historically getting external financing with lower expenses. The outer financing average interest rate for the 2014-15 fiscal to 2018-19 fiscal was 1 percent while the expenditure for the interest repayment was 0.8 percent of the budget.
But due to the sliding down of grants and sliding up of loans the expenditure of interest repayment has slightly increased against external loans.
The interest rates for loans taken from external sources was 0.7 percent, 0.8 percent, 0.9 percent, 1.4 percent, 1.2 percent and 1.4 percent for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscals respectively.
As per the document, interest rates for the same kind of loans will be 1.4 percent, 1.4 percent and 1.5 percent for 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscals.
It mentioned that the interest payment for loans taken from internal sources was downed 2.3 percent comparing 2014-15 fiscal and 2018-19 fiscal due to some government reforms.
The interest rates for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscal for the loans taken from internal sources was 10.6 percent, 10 percent, 9.3 percent, 9.2 percent, 9.4 percent and 9.1 percent respectively.
As per the document, the interest rates for the same kind of loans will be 8.6 percent, 8.6 percent and 8.8 percent for 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscals.
It stated that the internal sources remain as the main source of deficit financing for the government.
Although the interest rate against the external sources jumped slightly, the overall cost for interest payment slide down 2.2 percent comparing 2014-15 fiscal and 2018-19 fiscal.