Another forest under attack by LGED
At a time when we should be making serious efforts to increase our forest coverage, which is critically important for our environment and collective well-being, we seem to be doing the opposite. While one would assume that it is private citizens and organisations who are trying to grab our forests, in reality, this is only part of the reality. We have seen over the last few years that it is mostly government agencies trying to implement big projects in our fast-depleting forests. The latest example is the Local Government Engineering Department's plan to construct a road through the Ramu reserve forest, which would connect Ramu upazila with Cox's Bazar City at the Marine Drive along the sea beach. The proposed road, if constructed, will cause irreparable damage to wildlife habitats and elephant corridors, not to mention the thousands of trees that will have to be felled for it. The question is, why then has the LGED department undertaken this project?
Reportedly, the LGED's Cox's Bazar office prepared the draft proposal to build the 5km road involving Tk 22 crore at the direction of the Cox's Bazar DC office. The road will facilitate communication between a proposed international football training centre in Ramu and Cox's Bazar City. The government has already handed over 20 acres of the Ramu reserve forest to the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) for building this residential training facility.
We would like to point out to the government that construction of both projects (road and training centre) is a breach of our environment conservation laws and Forest Act. Parts of the Ramu reserve forest were declared an Ecologically Critical Area in 1999 under the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995. Building these structures also goes against the government's Conference of the Parties (COP) commitment to end deforestation by 2030.
We think the government should immediately abandon these projects considering their potentially far-reaching detrimental effects on the environment. It should also remain careful about any projects that could decrease our forest coverage. The Ramu forest has special significance because it is home to various species of rare plants, birds and wild animals. It is used as a corridor and habitat for the endangered Asian Elephant in Cox's Bazar. The proposed road and other illegal settlements in this forest would only shrink the elephant corridor.
Cox's Bazar's forestland has always been a victim of grabbing by various public and private entities. A joint study conducted last year by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA) and Youth Environment Society found that 45,990 acres of the 260,046-acre forestland in Cox's Bazar have been illegally occupied by 43,568 people and 696 public and private organisations over the last decade. We urge the authorities to take action against these identified grabbers, and make sure that no more of our forestland is lost to human greed.