Do not lease out the reserved forests

The joint press conference in protest of allocating lands of reserved forest to the BFFProthom Alo

Eminent citizens of the country see the allocation of forest lands for the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) as a violation of the constitution and law. They say this will encourage the land-grabbers as well as endanger the environment and biodiversity of that region.

They raised this concern during a joint press conference at the Jatiya (National) Press Club on Wednesday. They also suggested allocating lands to BFF in a suitable place instead of forest lands.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change alloted 20 acres of reserved forest in Ramu upazila of Cox's Bazar for the construction of BFF’s technical centre on 7 June, which drew vast criticism from the environmentalists.

Mobassher Hossain, president of Bangladesh Institute of Architects, at a press conference demanding the cancellation of the allocation and a halt to encroachment of forests in Cox's Bazar, said, “Millions are spent in the Middle East for trees. If any tree is destroyed, the persons responsible are brought to book there. Forestry is considered the biggest development in the most affluent countries while we keep destroying the gift from the Creator, from Nature.”

It was revealed in the press conference that the total forest land in Cox’s Bazar district is some 260,046 acres, of which some 45,990 acres have been illegally occupied. Some 43,568 illegal occupants and 696 organisations have occupied this forest land. Apart from that, some 6,164 acres of forest land have been destroyed due to Rohingya settlements. Besides, 14,372 acres of forest lands have been allocated to several government agencies. Of these, some 8,884.85 acres of forest lands in Sonadia Island and Teknaf have been allocated to Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA), 202.24 acres to the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation, 14.2 acres to Dulahazra Chistian Memorial Hospital and 155 acres to Shaheed ATM Jafar Alam Discipline Academy’s Trade Rraining Lab

Besides, some 700 acres of reserved forests had been allotted for the construction of Bangabandhu Academy of Public Administration. However, the allotment was later suspended by a court order. In this manner, almost one-third of the total forest land in Cox’s Bazar (76,986 acres) has been occupied by both government and private sectors.

Iftekharuzzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said at the press conference, “Allocation of reserved forest on groundless reasons is clearly a violation of the constitution and law. Violation of the constitution and the law by the government conveys a wrong message to the people. It encourages the land-grabbers. They feel secure. The government will have to take responsibility for the occupation of one-third of the total forest lands in Cox’s Bazar.” He also recommended moving the technical centre to some other suitable location.

President of 'Green Cox's Bazar', Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, read out a written statement at the press conference. He said that the Ministry of Youth and Sports had appealed for an allocation of land to the Ministry of Land for the construction of the technical centre. Later, that appeal was forwarded to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The ministry requested the forest department to investigate the matter and give their opinion.

Later, the forest department said that it would not be appropriate to allocate the proposed site. The construction of the technical centre at the proposed site would result in severe damage of the regional environment and biodiversity and destruction of the forest and the wild animals.

Condemning the allocation of reserved forest despite these factors, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association’ president Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “What is the need to have a forest department then? Closing down its activities would save the people’s money at least.”

Referring to the construction in the forest as an addiction, Rizwana Hasan further said, “The trend of everyone wanting to open a centre in the tourist city or a rest house in the name of a government agency to spend vacations, has become an addiction."

Nijera Kori coordinator Khushi Kabir presided over the press conference. Among the others who were present at the press briefing were Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) general secretary Sharif Jamil, Rowshan Jahan, deputy chief of Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and Md Barkat Ali, deputy director (law) of Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST).

ALRD, TIB, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), BELA, BLAST, BAPA, Nijera Kori, Green Cox’s Bazar, Youth Environment Society (YES), Cox’s Bazar Nagorik Andolan and Save the Cox’s Bazar jointly organised the press conference.