Forest management in Bangladesh: loopholes and inadequacies
Forests contribute to the economy and maintain ecological stability. Despite being a selfless auxiliary, forests in Bangladesh have been depleted and degraded in volume and area over the years. Among the multiple factors behind this impropriety with the forests, some are- migrants who decided to move to the forests due to the problems in their place of origin, the timber industries which legally or not cutting too many trees, grazing and browsing, transforming the forest lands into agricultural lands, unjust use of forest woods particularly in the brickfields and other industries. Apart from all of these factors, is there any legal factor that works as the hidden root behind this inequity with the forests?
Forest Department works as an integral part of the ministry of Environments and Forests and is empowered to superintend the forest resources and governmental forest lands. A country must have 25% forestlands whereas according to the Forest Department, Bangladesh has 46,52,250 acres which are around 12.76% of the total area. A report of TIB suggests, forestlands decreased around 4,32,250 acres over the last two decades. The report adds, Forest department managed to rescue only 8792 acres in the last 5 years. Up to the year 2019, 2,87,453 acres of land were possessed through illegal collusion. Forest Department has been vested with the proprietorship of forests whereas the Department of Environment was only given the monitoring and enforcement capacity. The research of TIB discovered up to 61% embezzlement during the allotment of funds for accomplishing forestation projects by the Forest Department and the policymakers at the upper echelon. In the appointment and transfer of departmental posts such as Forest range officers, beat officers, chief or deputy chief conservator, project director, divisional forest officers, etc. in the department, large sums of money are transacted.
The forest scammers are politically influential. Despite the remonstrance from the Department of Environment, Forest Department has been permitted to operate coal-fired power projects and also some mega projects which are harmful to the environment beside the reserved forests. This somehow implies the inadvertence and tendency to disobey the instructions or rules. Stolen woods from forests are mostly delivered in the brickfield industries where direct interference of the Beat officers is clear. Rule 5A (2) of the Social Forestry Rules, 2004 dictates clearly who will be listed as the beneficiaries. However, in reality, exactly the opposite scenario has been witnessed. There exists a direct or indirect intervention in the selection of beneficiaries.
One can easily get the accessibility to protected forests getting the license from the Forest Department. Once someone gets the license, he gets all the authority to extract woods and forest products from the forest. To expedite the regulations of protected forests, the co-management process was launched through the Protected Area Rules. In reality, only 3-4 of the total protected forests are guided by the rules. So, the Protected Area Rules are not functional in Verite. The subject of sustainable and accountable forest management is in question.
Forest Act, 1927 which was enacted by the British is still the basic law by which forests are being governed in Bangladesh. The first and foremost mission of the British was to boost up their economy by extracting resources of the Indian sub-continent. Not only economic advancement but also in composing their infrastructural development, our resources contributed immensely. Progressive commercialisation of forest resources for revenue maximisation, by the acquisition of agricultural lands and using them for trade and commerce, were their ultimate goals. One of the biggest loopholes of the Forest Act is that it does not talk about forest protection, conservation and improvement of quality. Rather this law is mostly focused on how you can generate money because this law was created from the British colonial perspective. Even today, we are extracting the benefits of this Act adversely. From then to date, we have failed to abolish this law and to bring a sustainable, environment-friendly law into force.
A recent survey conducted by FAO found that the rate of deforestation has increased up to 37,700 hectares per year. The research of USAID and CIDA also tells, 50% of the total forests have been destroyed within the last 20 years. According to the estimation of the forest resource management project, the ratio of supply and demand of timber and fuelwood is drastically inconsistent. So, it is high time, we made the Forest Department more functional & accountable and saved our forests from deforestation by implementing a dynamic forest law.
The writer is student of law, North South University (NSU).