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The country has lost around 450,000 acres of forest land since independence, according to the forest department.

The environment, forest and climate change ministry has allocated over 150,000 acres of forest land for development work.

Government organisations have got the allotments and a few non-government organisations have also been given some allotments too.

Private industrialists and influential people locals have grabbed about 300,000 acres of forest land.

Bangladesh Economic Zone (BEZ), Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation (BFIDC), gas fields, roads authorities and different forces have taken the allotments.

Demands for 50,000 more acres of forest land have been placed to the ministry.

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The forest land should not be given for simply any reason. Roads cannot be built through the forests. Steps have to be taken to recover the grabbed land.
Arannayk Foundation executive director Farid Uddin Ahmed

The forest department alleges the recipient agencies are grabbing more land than the allotment.

There are about 9,000 acres of land with BEZA. BFIDC has taken a total of 25,000 acres.

Different forces have been using about 93,000 acres of land, according to the ministry.

Besides, over 6,000 acres of forest land in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox's Bazar has been ruined due to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

The forest department provided data regarding grabbed land to the parliamentary standing committee on the environment, forest and climate ministry on 18 October.

It said about 90,000 persons and organisations have grabbed the land. The highest land grabbing took place in Cox's Bazar. Powerful persons have grabbed land there.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, secretary Ziaul Hasan said the allotment of land has to be given for development work. The ministry, however, sets conditions to plant trees after the development work.

He also said the ministry filed cases against the land grabbers and land has been recovered too.

Experts said the forest land in Bangladesh has decreased alarmingly in the last 15 years. The total area of a country needs to have 25 per cent forest land to maintain environmental balance.

According to the forest department, there is only 13 per cent of forest land in the country.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 10-15 per cent of the people in the world still depend on forest land. The government is planning to increase forest land by 20 per cent by 2030 in a bid to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

According to the latest statistics of the forest department, the total forest land stands at over 6300,000 acres. And 3300,000 acres are of reserved forest. Protected forest land is about 1200,000 acres. Gardens created under the social afforestation are on over 150,000 acres.

Forest ministry officials said the forest land is not registered n the forest department's name in many cases. Deputy commissioners (DCs) in many cases leased land of reserved forests as fallow land at nominal prices.

Four top officials said the reserved forest of Khuniaparang mouza in Ramu upazila in Cox's Bazar is registered as fallow land.

The DC gave the allotment of the land in the name of a powerful secretary's brother. In Mymensingh, forest land of 30 mouzas is not registered in the name of the forest department. There are more such instances.

The forest department is seeking a solution by writing letters regularly to the land ministry.

On 27 December 2017, the forest ministry wrote a letter to the principal secretary of the prime minister's office (PMO).

They requested that the forest land not be used for development work such as railway lines, roads, drains, power and gas transmission lines, and border post.

The ministry said equal amounts of land should be acquired for creating forest sif forest land is taken for emergency purposes of the state.

A total of 190 acres of forest land has been given to Bangladesh Petroleum in Maheskhali of Cox's Bazar. An oil terminal oil will be built there at the cost of Tk 40 billion by cutting down the forest.

The ministry records say permission has been given to cut down forest resources including different varieties of about 2000 trees in the lone hilly island of the country.

BPC is giving Tk 13.6 million to the government as compensation.

Petrobangla has taken an allotment of 53 acres of land to install a gas pipeline in Shakhipur of Tangail. Around 18,000 trees in seven mouzas of Shakhipur will be felled. There are about 1,000 gajari trees in the forest.

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The forest department will get Tk 30 million payment for the trees. The energy and mineral resources division wrote a letter to the forest ministry on 31 August seeking permission to cut down the trees. A demonstration was staged over the matter.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former chief of IUCN in Bangladesh and former chief forest conservator Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed said the entire forest is destroyed if the land inside the forest is allocated.

Ishtiaq said it has to be learnt what types of damages will take place in the forest if the allotment of forest land is made. It is not possible to plant trees by ten times after the destruction of forest land.

He said the issue of compensation is a joke.

According to the forest act of 1972, building roads through forest sis prohibited.

But the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and union council are building roads and sewerage lines in different places damaging the sal forest.

The records say the forest ministry sent letters to the local government division, making an objection to this. The three high officials said these letters were never taken into cognizance.

The records show LGED constructed roads between Teknaf-Shaplapur in Cox's Bazar by destroying reserved forest and by razing quarries of stones and hills. LGED constructed roads through the reserved forest in Bandarban.

The forest authorities filed cases against the engineers and contracting firms, but to no avail.

Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of forest and environment affairs foundation Arannayk Foundation, said the forest land should not be given for any reason. The roads cannot be built through the forest. Steps have to be taken to recover the grabbed land.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam