Representatives of the civil society and local people on Tuesday complained that the government is trying to hide Golpata and other forest trees contaminated by the spilled oil from public view by cutting those along the banks of the Shela river.
The river runs through the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarban, a UNESCO heritage site.
This was observed when a group of local and national journalists along with officials of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA) visited the Jaymoni area under Chanpai Range in Mongla district where last week the Southern Seven Star, an oil tanker, collided with another ship and sunk.
During the trip on a trawler this correspondent found that a group of local people along with Forest Department officials were cutting the oil marked trees on both the sides of the River Shela.
"We have been asked by the Forest Department to cut these trees including Golpata bushes. We will bury these trees under the soil, "Yusuf Sheikh , 40, a fisherman, son of late Hasem Sheikh of Jaymoni area, told The Daily Observer.
Environmentalists expressed concern with the method as destroying the oil will not be possible by burying it.
Zahidul Sheikh, 15, son of Abdul Sheikh, said, "Senior Forest Department officials have ordered us to cut these trees. After that we will boil the leaves and branches to collect oil from the tress. They have promised us Tk 500."
When contacted over phone, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said he was not responsible for the cutting down of the trees, it is the responsibility of the Environment and Forest Ministry.
However, he said that whatever is being done is for the greater good of the people.
When asked, Yusuf Sheikh, 40, son of Md Hasem Sheikh, a local fishermen, who was collecting oil from the net placed on the mouth of the Bhaggalaxmi canal, said that the oil entered the channel and covered an area of 7-8 km in the Chandpai Range.
Islam Khan, 42, an Assistant Conservator of Forest, who was guiding the workers, told this correspondent that the contaminated trees will eventually die and would contaminate others trees so they are felling the trees and also burying it under the soil.
A group of local people were collecting the oil in tanks and were loading it in the truck to be transported 30 km away to be sold to the Padma oil company in Mongla.
Dr Kh Shamsuddoha, Chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water transport Authority, claimed that 75,000 litre of oil have been collected. However, some locals claim that only 48,000 liters of oil has so far been collected and sold at the rate of Tk 40 per litre whereas, the market price of furnace oil is Tk 70.
Sharif Jamil, Joint Secretary and Council Member, Water Keeper Alliance, said that the forest officials are destroying the natural eco systems putting oil underneath the soil which will enter deep into the forest during high tide.
He also said that this work should be undertaken by skilled personnel and not by unskilled workers.
"The government has failed to discharge its responsibility, and now again it is destroying the jungle by cutting these trees and burying it," he said at a press briefing.
Expressing his reaction, he suggested that government should talk to the international experts who have expressed their willingness to provide assistance and support even without any payment.
Gilles Bonugli Kali, a French freelance photographer, who came to cover the event, talking to this correspondent said the Sundarban mangrove forest's eco systems is a complex network.
"It's very sad, the water will comtraminate the fish, when people eat fish they will be contraminated. And finally the fishermen will lose their job, so it will hamper their livelihood as well," he said.