Extortion in the name of tourism development, domestic and foreign tourists are turning away from Jaflong

Jaflong tourist spot in Sylhet’s ‘Patharkanya’ is an exception even though there is no entrance fee for other tourist centers in the country. There is open extortion in the name of tourism development under the umbrella of the administration. The collection of donations from tourists started from December last year. For this, volunteers were appointed by the administration. Although they often get the news that female tourists are upset, these incidents do not come up for discussion. However, after the beating of the men and women who came to visit last Thursday, a fight broke out. Videos of tourists being beaten by volunteers with sticks went viral on social media. Police have arrested five people in the incident. They are all known to be involved in the politics of the ruling Awami League. One of them is Lakshan Chandra Das. He was the joint general secretary of West Jaflong Union Chhatra League.

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Meanwhile, the number of tourists in Jaflong has decreased after the attack on Thursday. Although Jaflong is the first choice for tourists visiting Sylhet from different parts of the country, now they have turned away from this tourist center. Especially those who have brought their families are not going to Jaflong for safety.

According to the relevant sources, on 18 February 2015, Prakritikanya Jaflong was officially declared an environmentally critical area, but it was not implemented. Although entrance fee has been taken for the development of tourism, in reality the facilities for tourists in Jaflong are inadequate. In this situation, on 9 November 2020, a 25-member Tourism Development Committee of Gowainghat Upazila was formed. Apart from the 8 presidents and representatives of various committees of professional organizations in the tourism development committee formed with the Upazila Nirbahi Officer as the chairman, all the others are local administration officials and chairman members of the union parishad under the upazila. Under the supervision of that committee, usually 8-10 volunteers collect donations from tourists in Jaflong on a temporary basis every day. For the convenience of the tourists, according to the decision of the meeting of the District Tourism Development Committee, an entrance fee of 10 rupees was taken from the tourists in Jaflong. With this money the area is clean and tidy, Various services are provided to the incoming tourists including the wages of the volunteers. If the pressure of tourists increases during Eid or on special days, the number of volunteers is increased to 20-30. Although each of them works for Rs 50 per hour, they are not directly employed, UNO said. They are recruited by a manager and are paid daily as hourly. In addition, the cleaners are paid a daily wage of 400 rupees.

It can be seen on the spot that after fixing the contribution in the name of tourism development of Jaflong, the local administration counter the ticket at the entrance of Zero Point area. At one time Jaflong went to Zero Point through Ballaghat area but now the local administration has entered through Guchhgram. A ticket counter has been set up next to the BGB camp in Guchhgram. Here are the volunteers assigned by the administration. According to the sign board pasted on the counter, in order to develop the Jaflong tourist area and increase the tourism service, a fee of Tk 10 per tourist has been fixed for the entry of tourists as per the decision of District Tourism Committee and Upazila Tourism Committee. Deputy Commissioner and Upazila Nirbahi Officer have been quoted under this announcement. Among them, the deputy commissioner is the chairman of the district tourism development committee and the UNO is the chairman of the upazila tourism development committee.

According to a local source, the wages of volunteers are usually around Rs 5,000 per day and at special times it is around Rs 20,000-25,000 per day. Besides, there are allegations of spending large sums of money by showing different sectors. East Jaflong Union Parishad is allocated Tk 25,000 every year for the renovation of toilets in the tourist area. In Jaflong, tourists were beaten with sticks and all of them were seen wearing volunteer jackets. The concerned people have informed that the college-university students will be recruited as volunteers among the local residents. However, in reality, many of the volunteers are scoundrels or businessmen, according to local sources.

A volunteer named Iqbal Hossain is the Youth and Sports Secretary of East Jaflong Union Volunteer League. He also owns a sandstone business called Messrs. SK Enterprise. There are allegations that the volunteers are controlled by Iqbal, who is known to be close to the local administration. However, Iqbal Hossain denied the allegations, saying he only worked as a volunteer.

Bablu Bakht, owner of the local Green Resort in Jaflong, said thousands of tourists visit on Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to special government holidays. However, in the days after Eid, more than one lakh tourists visit every day. Besides, on other days, an average of 10 to 15 thousand tourists visit Jaflong every day. As such, usually one to one and a half lakh rupees is collected every day. And on special days the income is around 10 lakh rupees.

Bangladesh Environment Movement (BAPA) Sylhet General Secretary Abdul Karim Kim ‘What is the meaning of volunteer?’ Asked, he said that the behavior of them (volunteers) on Thursday, it seems that they are the staff of the administration. If natural sites have to be managed locally with donations, then what is the government’s role in tourism development? He complained that not only the collection of tolls, but also hundreds of shops have been set up on khas land in Jaflong with the help of the administration. Administration officials get money from here.

Gowainghat Upazila Nirbahi Officer Tahmilur Rahman said that according to the decision of the District Tourism Development Committee, the local administration is only implementing the issue of taking fees. As chairman of the Upazila Tourism Development Committee, he refused to call the issue an “extortion”, saying Jaflong had previously been declared an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA). He said the entrance fee had been ‘free’ for a week after the unfortunate incident on Thursday. In addition, round-the-clock security has been tightened to provide security to the tourists.

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