Prothom Alo illustration

Some 6,096 acres of land under the Dinajpur forest department have been occupied by the locals, according to the forest department.

Some of the occupants are using this land for agriculture while the others are constructing houses on this land. They even attacked the workers of the forest department when they went to recover the land.

A list of the occupants has been published on the portal of the forest department. Dinajpur forest department has made a proposal to the higher authorities for the eviction of these occupants. The people concerned said the eviction drive would start very soon.

According to the forest department, there are 19,112.23 acres of forest land in Dinajpur district divided into four ranges – Charkai, Madhyapara, Dinajpur Sadar and Thakurgaon. These four ranges are divided into 15 beats for conducting the department's operation. At least 32 per cent of the total forest land in the district have been occupied illegally.

There are names of some 2,443 illegal occupants in the list. They have occupied forest land of different sizes from five decimals to 10 acres. There are names of Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party leaders in the list of the illegal occupants.

The forest land has been illegally occupied the most in the Nawabganj upazila. There, some 654 occupants have occupied around 3,952 acres of land under the forest department.

Beat official Nishikanta Malakar of Charkain range in the Nawabganj upazila said a total of 220 acres of forest land have been recovered in his beat in the last four years. Besides, an illegally constructed brick kiln near the forest has been evicted.

Recently, eight people, including officials of Madhyapara and Nawabganj thana range, were injured in a clash that erupted as the officials went to evict the occupants, according to the sources in the forest department.

Meanwhile, Rabindranath Saren, president of the ‘Bangladesh Adivasi Parishad’, alleged for the inclusion of more than 200 people from the ethnic minorities in the list of the occupants.

He said, “These people have been protecting this forest for a long time. Their life is circled around this forest. They have occupied 5-10 decimals of forest land at best. If they are to be evicted, then the government must make the arrangements for their rehabilitation.”

Rafiqul Islam has occupied around 30 acres of forest land in the Dakshin Harirampur mouja in Parbatipur upazila for cultivation. He is also the vice-president of upazila Awami League. He claimed that he inherited these lands and had not occupied any forest land.

The name of Delowar Hossain, owner of the amusement park named Swapnapuri in Aftabganj area of Nawabganj upazila, has also come up in the list of the occupants of the forest land. In 2015, the forest department even filed a case against five, including the manager of Swapnapuri, on the allegation of cutting down more than 100 trees over 10 acres of forest land to occupy it.

Swapnapuri owner Delowar Hossain, also the president of Dinajpur district Jatiya Party, said, “The officials of the forest department made a fabricated report without visiting the site. We have all the evidence including records of this land and relevant tax records.”

BNP supporter and panel mayor of Ghoraghat pourashava, Abdul Quader has occupied one acre and 33 decimals of forest lands for constructing a rice husking mill (chatal).

However, denying the allegation, he told Prothom Alo, “The government cleared some 206 acres of land in that mouja in 1983 or 1984. Later, we appealed to the High Court and the court passed a verdict in our favour. There are some trees of the forest department. But there was no incident of illegally occupying the forest land.”

Speaking to Prothom Alo, forest officer Bashirul-Al-Mamun, said, “The forest department is trying to recover this land. We have recovered some 150 acres of forest land in this year alone. A total of 279 cases have been lodged against these illegal occupants at different times. Some 51 cases have been filed in the last three years."