No more destruction of reserved forests for construction

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

It’s the responsibility of ministry of environment, forest and climate change to recover reserved forestland that has been occupied by a person or an organisation. But we have observed with concern that the said ministry has been allotting reserved forests one after another to different organisations. On 7 June this year, they allotted 20 acres of reserved forest in Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar for the construction of Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) technical centre. That too after ignoring the objection of the forest department.

From articles published on newspapers, we see that the youth and sports ministry appealed to the ministry of land for the allocation of land to construct its technical centre. The land ministry forwarded that appeal to the ministry of environment, forest and climate change. They then instructed the forest department to conduct a field investigation and give their opinion. In response, the forest ministry said that it won’t be right to allot land from the proposed site. As construction of a technical centre could endanger the wild animals, destroy the bio-diversity of that area as well as cause immense damage to the environment.

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After hearing this objection, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change should’ve rejected the appeal from the youth and sports ministry. But they, contrarily, gave permission to construct the BFF centre on the reserved forest. This decision of theirs goes against the forest act and the constitution. Leading environment organisations, such as ALRD, TIB, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), BELA, BLAST, BAPA, Nijera Kori, Green Cox’s Bazar, held a joint press conference to call for the ministry of environment, forest and climate change to revoke their decision.

They said that the reserved forestland was unlawfully allotted for the construction of the BFF technical centre. The section 27 of the forest act gives the government the power to de-reserve a reserved forestland, but it does not give them the power to allot the land for something that could damage the forest.

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It was revealed in the press conference that the total forestland in Cox’s Bazar district is some 260,046 acres, of which some 45,990 acres have been illegally occupied, which is more than 17 per cent. Besides, 14,372 acres of forestland have been allocated to several government agencies. The forest department has handed over 10,460 acres of forestland to the land ministry so far. In total, 76,986 acres or about 30 per cent of land has been encroached so far.

The parliamentary committee on the environment, forest and climate change ministry at a meeting last year recommended taking necessary measures to recover the land from the grabbers. An estimation on how much land has been encroached and where, was presented at that meeting too but the ministry did took no step to recover that grabbed forestland rather it has allocated reserved forest in the name of the BFF technical centre.

Expressing solidarity with the environment organisations, we also strongly want to say that a reserved forest cannot be destroyed for the construction of BFF centre or any other establishment. We want immediate withdrawal of this allotment and see permanent and effective steps for the protection of reserved forests.