Supply electricity to remote areas
DESPITE off-grid electrification like solar energy is handy for remote areas, the Rural Electrification Board (REB) and the Forest Department have engaged in loggerhead over installing power lines through reserve forests in eight districts. The REB insisted to realise the government plan for 100 percent electrification by installing 457 km power lines through forest, while Forest Department resisted the stride saying biodiversity would be in danger and would encourage grabbing and hunting.
The REB has been trying to set up power lines through six reserve forests and 10 social forestry plantations in 24 upazilas of Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Mymensingh, Gazipur, Khulna and Satkhira. It has reportedly completed "100 percent electrification" of 341 out of the 491 upazilas but yet to do so in the rest, as the installation of power lines through the forests had to be suspended two years back in the face of the department's opposition. According to the Forest Act-1927, no structure can be set up in a reserve forest, while the National Forest Policy-1994 prohibits any development projects within a forest, except when it is permitted by the Prime Minister. Besides, a Cabinet Division circular in 2017 asked all the government organisations to have the Forest Department's clearance for projects that trespass on forests.
It's believed that if the power lines go through the forests, it will have a devastating impact on the ecosystem as well as wildlife. If we take into consideration the soil and water a forest holds back, the resources, biodiversity and the extent of carbon it absorbs, the monetary value will go far beyond the value of electricity. Despite prevailing alternative mode of electrification like captive generator, off-grid electrification or solar power, trespass the forest endangering biodiversity is unwelcomed. Besides, there is a fear of illegal occupants in the reserve forest that eventually hamper the vegetation.
Though the loggerhead between two government institutions is a healthy practice to protect institutional interest, but we suggest the REB to choose alternative electrification mode as the country has set up milestone in introducing solar energy in different char and remote areas. As forest is the national property, we should protect it for our next generation. Electrification is undoubtedly an undeniable necessary, but there should be some alternatives also.