Stringent eviction drives needed to restore forests

At a meeting of the standing committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on Monday, the ministry revealed that 287,452 acres of forest land in the country had fallen into the hands of grabbers. The number of these grabbers is around 90,000. This means the ministry, which is responsible for monitoring and conserving the forests, does not take proper care in this regard. These forests were not occupied overnight. These illegal and environmentally destructive activities have been going on year after year. The forest grabbing is as much a matter of concern as the negligence of the authorities in this regard.

The unlawful occupation of the forest does not only mean that state property is being taken over by individuals and institutions, it also means that the country's forests are being destroyed, causing irreversible damage to the natural environment.

We want to see who has grabbed the forests. We don't want to leave even a tiny piece of forest occupied
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman, parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

As per the target set by the United Nations, 25 per cent of any country's territory should comprise forest land. But the forest land in Bangladesh has now come down to less than 15 per cent, according to the forest department. Unofficial records indicate the actual forest area in the country will be even less.

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Forest grabbing and deforestation has been continuing relentlessly. According to the international organisation Forest Watch, from 2001 to 2018, Bangladesh lost about 378,000 acres of forest land. Deforestation particularly increased in the last few years. Forest Watch says in the five years from 2014 to 2018, a total of 231,000 acres of forest land has been damaged. That means the amount of deforestation taken place in the last 13 years until 2014 has been almost doubled in the last five years.

No information about the deforestation in the subsequent two years was found. But it can be assumed that if the deforestation continues at the same pace, the amount of forest land in the country will be much lower.

After the meeting of the parliamentary committee, committee chairman Saber Hossain Chowdhury told the media: “We want to see who have grabbed the forests. We don't want to leave even a tiny piece of forest occupied.” The committee has asked the ministry for a list the of 90,000 grabbers. He also told the media that the list will be made public.

We are eagerly waiting the list. This will mean nothing unless the forests are salvaged from their hands. The real task is to free the forest land from clutches of the grabbers, restoring the natural environment there and ensuring these are not occupied again.

In order to do that, the forest surveillance system needs to be made more effective. The grabbers are usually locally powerful, especially those with political influence, and the law enforcement cannot work properly against them. Therefore, special attention should be paid to stop those politically influential grabbers. The network between the grabbers and the dishonest officials of the forest department must be busted. It is necessary to launch stringent and all-out eviction drives to restore the grabbed forests immediately.

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