Saturday, January 16, 2021 | ePaper

Forest land is diminishing by govt projects to the consternation of the people

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OVER 4.58 lakh acres of the country's forestlands have disappeared over the past 70 years due to the development of government projects or the occupation by more than 1,00,000 individuals and businesses. Of that, over 1.60 lakh acres of forestlands are in possession of several government agencies, while District Administrations and the Land Reforms Board have leased out an estimated 11,000 acres of forestlands in Savar, Gazipur, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar. The disappearance of the forests resulted in the disappearance of the habitats of many endangered animals and contributed to climate change and increased the average temperature.
Over one lakh occupiers grabbed an estimated 2.87 lakh acres of forestlands for agricultural activities and to develop factories, resorts, recreation parks, picnic spots, film cities, schools and others. Unfortunately, the department has no data on how many cases are pending with various courts over forestland grabbing and no census on the tree varieties. The officials said they have nothing to do to reclaim 1.6 lakh acres of forestlands converted into roads, railways and infrastructures of different government agencies. In Cox's Bazar, over 59,471 acres of forestlands have been converted into shrimp projects, salt factories, shipbreaking factories, Rohingya refugee camps, and roads and infrastructures of many agencies. Most of these lands were leased out by the District Administration while 46,000 occupiers, mostly landless people, took the rest.
The High Court last January observed that any notified forest area could not be allotted or leased for any purpose that would damage the country's forest. Rights advocates urged to stop the conversion of forestlands into structures and enterprises. Forest Department urgently needs to be reorganized and reinvigorated with provision for immediate recruitment of professional foresters with right academic and skill training. Forest boundary demarcation needs to be completed as soon as possible. Forestry research needs to be strengthened and academic institutions need to be engaged with forestry operation and management research.

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