The degradation of forest resources in Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) started since British rule due to settlement of plain land people there and nationalisation of CHT forests to protect the same from overexploitation by indigenous people. The management of these resources was vested with the two central government organizations Forest Department (FD) and Deputy Commissioner (DC) with full property rights. The British also formulated some Rules and regulations and codified the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation, 1900 and Forest Act, 1927. Now the settlers from plain land and smugglers along with indigenous people are active in the region. The ever-increasing demand for wood is causing deforestations there.
At present, there are a good number of Acts and Rules that deal with the protection of forest and conservation forest resources of Bangladesh. The most widely known forest related law is the Forest Act 1927. The Act was enacted to preserve and safeguard forest in general, both public and private. It has been amended in 1930. Since the partition in 1947, it was amended in 1949 and 1962. After the independence of Bangladesh, the Act was further amended in 1974; however, major changes took place in 1989. In 1989, the Act was amended to strengthen forest protection by providing for stiffer penalties for offenders and restricting the discretionary powers of the forest officials and local magistrates. The authority also issued two rules: The Chittagong Hill Tracts Transit Rules, 1973 and The Forest Transit Rules, 2011. The Brick Burning (Control) Act enacted in July 1989 was intended to ban firewood for brick burning that has been substituted by the Brick Manufacturing and Kiln Construction (Control) Act, 2013 with effect from July 1, 2014 to protect forest resources.
It is mentionable that the Chittagong Hill Tract Transit Rules 1973 was promulgated to regulate the transit of timber and other forest resources through land or water within, into or from the districts of CHT and to control saw pit and timber depot in its areas. There should be no removal of timber without permission and payment of scheduled rate of fees (s 3). Any person importing, exporting or removing woods from within or out of the area should obtain certificate of origin or permit, transit pass from Forest officer or Police Officer.
It is noted that the Forest Act, 1927 has imposed imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall not be less than two months and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to ten thousand Taka and shall not be less than two thousand Taka. However, the Rule of 1973 issued under the Forest Act 1927 has imposed lesser punishment than the Forest Act. The Rule reduced the jail term to 6 months and penalty to BDT 500 for illegal cutting and smuggling of wood. The smugglers, tribal people, local administration and law enforcers are happy with the contradiction of the law and the rule, which facilitates illegal sale of wood and illegal earnings.
In a land mark judgment by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mr Muhammad Shamsuddin Khalid of Rangamati Hill Tract District on March 1, 2016 in case no: Forest 09/2009, questions the difference in the law and Rule and recommended changes in the Rule. The judgment should be considered as historical since the subordinate court hardly gives observation on anomaly of law or rule in our country. The relevant regulating Ministry should amend the Rule to maintain uniformity between the law and the rule.
The writer is a Legal Economist.