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The public administration ministry has received an allotment of 700 acres of forestland to construct a civil service administration academy along the marine drive in Cox’s Bazar. The land ministry has allotted the land which actually belongs to the forest department (DoF).

According to a Prothom Alo report published on Sunday, the forestland--located at Jhilongja besides Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf marine drive--is an ecologically critically area (ECA). Conservation of the forestland is a must to maintain ecological balance. The existing forest conservation law prohibits building of any establishment inside an ECA. In 1990, a land ministry’s decree banned allotment of hills and hilly slopes around the Chattogram division. The government circular dedicated the Jhilongja land for afforestation to the forest department. The same ministry has violated its own declaration by allowing lease of the land along the marine drive.

The manner in which the public administration ministry and the land ministry is collaborating, in violation of the rules and regulations, it seems as if the forestland under the department of forests is the only available plot to construct the administration academy. The two ministries have not even paid any heed to objections raised in this regard by the parliamentary standing committee for environment, forest and climate change ministry.

The land ministry presented false information about the forestland, terming it ‘non-agricultural’, while approving of it being leased out. Land ministry officials must be aware about the difference between ‘non-agricultural land’ and ‘forestland’. Official documents said the Cox’s Bazar district administration in 2018 sought the environment department’s (DoE) non-objection certificate (NOC) to build the Bangabandhu Academy of Public Administration (BAPA) establishments there. The same year the DoE issued an NOC on 14 terms.

The DoE is led by administration cadres. Administration cadres hold important posts including director general and directors of DoE.

The actual price of the Jhilongja forestland is over Tk 48 billion, but has been leased out for a token price of Tk 100,000 only. The land ministry simply cannot do this.

Clearing woods and cutting into hills for the sake of construction is nothing new in Cox’s Bazar. Hill cutting and deforestation happened in all the incumbent governments. The land ministry Saifuzzaman Chowdhury said he does not find any problem with land exchange between two government wings. By his statement, he has undermined conservation of environment and forest-hills. The land ministry can lease non-agricultural land to another government wing. But the lease should be facilitated on the basis of rules and regulations.

The public administration ministry has two academies at Savar and Shahbag in Dhaka. The ministry could establish more academies elsewhere. Why is Cox’s Bazar forestland grabbed for this purpose? The public administration ministry has received allotment of 700 acres of land for a single academy. In contrast, an Indian civil administration academy took only 127 acres of land.

Several wings of the government have established offices and residential facilities in Cox’s Bazar for recreational purposes. The location and the amount of allotted land for the planned administration academy seem suspicious as to whether the establishment is going to serve as a recreational point or training centre.

Considering the amount of land allotted and the location, a question pops up whether the establishment will be a training academy or a recreational center?

Allotment of the Jhilongja land has breached the law. The illegal allotment must be cancelled. Otherwise, the administration will have to take the responsibility of destroying the forest and nature. Denying responsibility will be considered as coercive behavior of the administration.

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