Mangrove forest plundered
Within hours after a court judgement that clearly directed the authorities to abide by the forest and environment acts, groups of people have chopped down thousands of trees inside a mangrove forest and a designated wildlife sanctuary to build a road in the remote island of Char Kukrimukri.
The lawmaker of Bhola 4 (Charfashion) Abdullah Al Islam alias Jacob and his local supporters backed chopping down of the mangrove forest for building the 2.5-kilometres long road without any environmental clearance or permission from the forest department as required by the law of the land.
The destruction of the forest would also greatly contribute to habitat loss for thousands of wildlife species, which depend on the forest. According to Ronald Halder, a wildlife expert and author of the “A Photographic Guide to Birds of Bangladesh”, said that Char Kukrimukri is home to a wide range of winter and local birds.
“The road would instantly cause habitat loss for the wildlife in the area,” Halder said. In addition, hundreds of deer, otters, fowls live in the mangrove forest of Char Kukrimukri.
The forest department has vehemently objected to the project and suggested at least two alternatives for building the road, bypassing the forest area. The local Union Parishad planned to link two villages Babugonj and Patila, through the proposed road.
The hurried felling of the trees has also defied the law that says the sale of the trees must be completed after floating a tender in the media.
The 20,000-acre (about the size of 18,200 football fields) man-made mangrove forest is one of the prides of the forest department. Forest officials said that if the road is built, illegal logging and poaching would increase overnight. The wildlife would face severe threat and most importantly, the bio diversity of the area would be at stake.
The road would also jeopardise Bangladesh's commitment to the international community to fight global warming. The country's forest cover has alarmingly shrunk to less than 10 percent of land mass with only 0.02 hectares of per capita forest land, one of the lowest in the world.
In 2010, the High Court issued an injunction on the Char Kukrimukri road project after the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) filed a writ petition. On Wednesday afternoon (June 8), just after the judgement was verbally passed by the High Court bench, some local people in Char Kukrimukri announced over the loudspeakers in the name of the local lawmaker that the road project would go ahead.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of BELA, said that the cutting of trees is a direct defiance to the High Court judgement.
“The judgement required compliance with the provisions of Environment conservation Act 1995 and the Forest Act 1912 while constructing the road,” Rizwana said, “Such hurried implementation is clearly malafide and against public interest,” she added.
At around noon on Frday, our correspondent found labourers working to construct the earthen road. Nearby, several hundred people with axes in hand were indiscriminately cutting down the tress.
Divisional Forest Officer in Bhola Sayed Ali told The Daily Star that the road would destroy the mangrove forest and make the area most vulnerable to natural disasters.
“We have officially sought help from the police and the magistracy but nothing has been done to stop the felling of the trees,” Sayed said.
“Following Wednesday's announcement over loudspeaker in the area, we tried to file a General Diary (GD) with the Char Fashion police station but the police were dilly dallying with recording the GD,” Sayed said. “Till today, they (police) have not given us the GD number.” he added.
Hashem Mohajon, an aspiring chairman of the area, widely known as the local lawmaker's own man and also leading an influential group in the area said that enthusiastic local people started felling the trees and construction of the road.
“The process of floating the tender is now underway. I am not involved with the matter though,” he said. As soon as he finished talking to this correspondent, Hasem Mohajon with his men, started cutting down the trees.
Nur-e-Alam, Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Char Fashion said that after he was informed a team visited the spot on June 9 and forbid the locals from cutting the trees without permission.
“But I could not do anything else, but the forest department can always prosecute those people who are involved in plundering its forest,” He added.
Despite repeated attempts throughout yesterday Abdullah Al Islam alias Jacob, lawmaker for Bhola-4 (Charfashion) could not be reached for his comment.