While we have been continuously writing in this newspaper about the urgent need to save our forests from land grabbers—big companies and other local powerful quarters, and environmentalists have been trying to make the government, people and all concerned aware about the disastrous impacts of forest destruction, unfortunately, forest grabbing has been going on unabated. A report in this daily on October 3 has revealed how a part of a reserve forest in Sylhet's Moulvibazar is in the process of being leased out to a private company for tea plantation.
In 1921, 12,019 acres of unsurveyed forestland in Sylhet district of Colonial Assam was declared the "Harargoj Reserve Forest" and the Forest Department has been protecting the forest for almost a century. The 2,174.35 acres of land in the middle of the reserve forest became a disputed land between the local Forest Department and administration after a digital land survey in 2013 recorded the part of the forest as "khas land" and classified as "hillock", meaning that this land can be leased. Although the forest department filed a case with the Land Survey Tribunal against this wrong classification of the land, the case has not been disposed of yet.
In the meantime, several tea companies were vying for getting a lease of the land and one leading tea producer managed to get the green signal from the PMO with the condition of case disposal. According to forest officials and green activists, the local offices concerned have misled the highest office regarding giving the lease to the company. Such a lease would eventually lead to the destruction of the whole reserve forest. Therefore, we think the government should move away from such a decision.
It is the constitutional duty of the government to save this forest. And not only this particular forest, the government should also give priority to saving all our remaining forests. We have only 11.2 percent forest area left in the country (according to an ADB report in 2016) which is much less than what we need for a proper ecological balance. We cannot afford to lose any more.