Wiping out the forests | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 23, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 23, 2009

Wiping out the forests

WHILE the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has launched a worldwide tree plantation campaign under the title "Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign" in order to avert calamitous climate change, some local political goons and dishonest timber merchants, in connivance with a section of unscrupulous officials of the forest department, have been cutting down trees -- thereby destroying the coastal ecology.
A Daily Star report, which said that some local Awami League and Jubo League men have cut down 30,000 Jhau trees on about 250 acres of land in Cox's Bazar to sell land in the form of plots for hotels, motels and business firms, is really a matter of grave concern.
Influential quarters have also grabbed 17-kilometres of the beach in Kuakata, destroying the greenbelts, which has made the area vulnerable to cyclones and tidal bores.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while addressing the third meeting of the national environment committee at her office on September 16, directed the authorities concerned to take stern action against those involved in the plundering of thousands of Jhau trees in Teknaf beach. It, however, remains to be seen in the coming days whether the government means business.
Illegal logging has also been going on unabated in the reserve forests in Rangamati, contributing to deforestation and destruction of wildlife. Almost all the reserve forests, stretching over 6.85 lakh acres, in the district have assumed a barren look due to mindless logging.
Forest officials of all levels directly help the loggers to plunder the forest in exchange for hefty bribes. Local people allege that unscrupulous officials of forest department hire outsiders as day labourers to cut down trees.
The extent of corruption that has gripped the county's forest department is beyond imagination. The all-pervading corruption that devoured our forest resources came to light only after the chief conservator of forests (CCF), Osman Gani, was arrested by the army-led joint force during the tenure of immediate past caretaker government.
Four forest officials have been suspended for negligence in discharging duties and aiding the plunderers of the trees at Teknaf beach. If a list of the most corrupt government offices is made, the forest department is sure to be among the top four. So, the government needs to go tough to tackle the unabated corruption in the forest department.
Wiping out of forests is also being done through grabbing the forest-land. Forest- land grabbing is so rampant and carried on with such impunity that it has almost ceased to be a cognisable offence.
According to a forest department report, some former ministers, MPs and political bigwigs have illegally occupied nearly 2,50,000 acres of forest-land with the help of top level forest officials. Lack of proper laws and unbridled corruption in the forest department have helped the land grabbers to stay free.
The Forest Act 1927 is not adequate anymore. It was enacted only to generate revenue from the forest resources. A drastic amendment of existing laws is desperately needed for protection of our forests from the grabbers and for trying the plunderers in the court of law.
According to government statistics, the area under forestation in the country is less than 10 percent of its total land area, while the required standard set for any country is 25 percent. Bangladesh is facing numerous environmental hazards due to wiping out of forests.
Deforestation has taken place at such an increasing rate that it threatens the ecological balance of the country. Amidst such frustrating developments in our forests, a group of blind people at Nilphamari has started planting trees on both sides of the roads with missionary zeal. It is indeed a good lesson for all of us to learn.
Among the various tasks of a democratically elected government, an often overlooked chore in our country is protection of the forests. Therefore, it is the time for the government to come out of its slumber and take some urgent and effective steps to save the forests.
Forests are one of our important natural resources, which contribute much towards facing calamitous climate challenge. Unfortunately, the people who were made custodians of such valuable national resources are involved in massive plundering of those resources. They have also joined hands with the influential quarters and turned the forests into their private fiefdom for plundering their wealth.
The government must act fast and also with a heavy hand to save the forests and coastal greenbelt in order to avert massive ecological and environmental disorders.

A.N.M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star.
E-mail: anmnhaque@hotmail.com

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