Forest men not guilty
Forest department officials yesterday visited the social forestry scheme on the chars of the Padma and talked with only alleged tree plunderers to decide that the trees were either stolen or denuded in erosion.
"Most of the trees were devoured by the mighty Padma and many were stolen. We did not find any of our staff involved in any offence. And the beneficiaries are helping us save the trees from erosion," said Rajshahi Divisional Forest Officer Abul Bashar Mia after visiting Char Sonaikandi.
Asked what measures they would take against theft, he replied, "What can we do about it now? We have not seen any thieves."
However, many interviewed beneficiaries of the scheme alleged that foresters were involved in tree plundering, while locals said hundreds of trees were felled until Sunday.
Directed by the high-ups, Abul Bashar visited Sonaikandi around 12:00pm along with Assistant Conservator of Forest SM Suyaib Khan and Rajshahi Range Officer M Rabiul Islam.
Forester M Moyen Uddin and nursery attendant Abdur Razzak were already waiting for them on the char.
The officials walked around the char and talked with only Saral Khan and Sohel Rana. The duo claimed to have been beneficiaries of the scheme, and said they helped foresters collect erosion-affected trees from the river.
"There is no scope for forest officials to plunder trees in any social forest scheme as local people are involved in it," Bashar told The Daily Star.
Asked if he had talked to any beneficiaries other than Saral and Rana, he avoided the question and said the beneficiaries live two to three miles away from the forest and thus cannot look after it.
Before the officials' visit, Rana was seen threatening some locals, who were blaming him for cutting and selling trees from the char along with Razzak. Sopura Begum alleged that Razzak brandished a machete in the morning and asked her to remain silent.
Abul Kalam said Razzak along with Rana, Saral and their labourers felled several hundred trees in last one week until Sunday and removed next day the scale, the houses and the tin-shed from where they sold the trees.
On Char Noboganga, elderly beneficiary of the scheme Abdur Razzak said he along with 50 to 60 men planted saplings about eight years ago. "Forest officials had promised us of benefits from the trees, but we never got any."
"As I saw Razzak and a few people were cutting down trees, I asked him for my share of benefit a few months ago. He [attendant Razzak] advised me to go to the forest office," said Golam Rasul Piarul.
"Whom will I complain to? Government staff are cutting down and selling the trees. They avoid us whenever we go and ask them for our shares," said Rahim Uddin, another deprived beneficiary.
Other beneficiaries including Nur Muhammad, Lal Muhammad, Muhammad Saddar, Selim, Rafique and Shamim made the same complaint.