Forest submerged to make a lake: Take action against accused

The forest department has opened up the dam that the associates of a former member of parliament built illegally by occupying the protected forest land using the lawmaker’s name following a report published in Prothom Alo. But the dam disrupted cultivation on 4,224 acres of land, destroyed thousands of trees and damaged biodiversity in Lohagara and Satkania – who will compensate for it?

Though influential people built that dam in 2011, the forest department could remove it not cut open the dam until that MP became a former lawmaker. He is no other than Abu Reza Muhammad Nezamuddin Nadwi, who contested the 7 January election with Awami League’s ticket and conceded defeat to the independent candidate. He faced no trouble in securing the party nomination despite facing allegations in several scandals while he was a lawmaker. Had he not been defeated in the election, the dam would have been as it was defying the objection and protest of the forest department and environmentalists and the entire forest would have been destroyed.

The Borohatia forest is in the border area of Barahatia union of Lohagara upazila and Sonakania union of Satkania upazila in Chattogram. According to the Prothom Alo report published on 3 February, influential people built a dam on the Sonakani spring and created an artificial lake by submerging about 2,500 acres of forest land in Chattogram. The Forest department said about 500,000 trees of various species including gamari, segun, chikrashi and arjun died because of this artificial lake.

Assistant forest conservator (Chattogram south) Delowar Hossain told Prothom Alo, “We tried our best to demolish the dam, but we could not succeed since people involved with the dam were influential.” Sonaichari Spring Water Management Cooperative Association president Shamshil Alam told Prothom Alo, “We lodged a complaint against 17 people, but certain MD Nasir Uddin and Manzur Alam were involved in building the dam and overseeing the lake. Nobody dared say anything as they were close to former lawmakers.”

The 2022-23 annual report of the forest department said forests in the Chattogram region were declared protected during British rule. Currently, there are about 3,311,000 acres of protected forest and 1,173,000 acres of reserved forest in the country, and the Barahatia forest is one of them. Previously, the forest department recommended in an investigation report filing a case against the people involved in various crimes that include destroying forests, hunting birds and wild animals and hill cutting, as well as launching eviction operations against forest grabbers. However, the influential people pay no heed to these cases and recommendations.

Nasir Uddin claimed then-Lohagara upazila nirbahi officer and upazila agriculture officer issued a clearance for building the dam, but then-Lohagara upazila agriculture officer (currently posted in Naogaon Sadar) Monirul Islam told Prothom Alo none was given a clearance to build the dam.

Those who destroyed the protected forest and arable land on the pretext of so-called clearance are the anti-public interest groups. Whoever influential people are behind them must be brought to justice, as well as adequate compensation must be realised.