It is bad enough that we have only 11.2 percent forest area left in the country (according to a 2016 report by ADB), which is much less than what is required for a proper ecological balance. But it is particularly upsetting that even the remaining forests including the reserved ones are being encroached upon by powerful grabbers across the country. According to a report by The Daily Star published on February 19, a tea estate in Chattogram has been ravaging the Ramgor-Sitakunda reserve forest in Fatikchhari upazila for over a decade and expanding its territory illegally. The tea estate authorities foiled the forestation attempts by the forest department, cut down trees indiscriminately, and even built a bridge inside the forest ignoring a court directive. What is more, whenever forest department officials tried to prevent them, they were attacked by the tea estate staff who threatened them at gunpoint and also vandalised their vehicles.
Visiting the forest area recently, our correspondent has seen at least three excavators cutting the hills at Badurkhil block of the forest. Reportedly, there had been some mistakes in the land records, in both the Bangladesh Survey (BS) and the digital survey, which have led to the dispute between the forest department and the tea estate. However, since the court imposed a status quo at Badurkhil after the forest department filed a case seeking amendment to the BS ledger, both parties should follow the status quo order until the court delivers its verdict. Sadly, the tea estate authorities are not complying with the court order and continuing with their illegal activities.
Since the forest department does not have the manpower to stop the powerful grabbers, the government needs to take urgent steps in this regard. The department also needs more support from the local administration and police in dealing with such cases. Our reserved forests must be saved at all costs and necessary action should be taken if the government wants to reach its goal of increasing the country's forest coverage to 20 percent by 2030.