Nothing justifies destroying a forest
We are concerned at the way different government agencies have been trying to occupy the forestland of Cox's Bazar to implement their projects, disregarding the fact that doing so would further deplete what little forest coverage we have, which is critically important for our environment. The latest such attempt was made by the Department of Prison which is reportedly planning to build a prison on protected forestland in Paglirbil in Cox's Bazar's Ukhiya upazila. According to our report, after the land ministry allotted 160 acres of land to the prison department, the latter placed demarcation flags around the area. But the forest department removed those flags since no clearance was taken from them, leading to an apparent conflict between the two parties.
We are not against building a prison which will have many modern facilities for the inmates. However, we strongly oppose building it on protected forestland, and urge the government to take the project somewhere else.
What becomes clear from this state of affairs is that there is hardly any coordination among the ministries and departments involved when it comes to taking or giving lease of any government land, particularly forestland. Otherwise, how can the land ministry randomly allot part of a protected forest to the prison department without following due procedure, and even without asking for approval from the forest department and the department of environment (DoE)?
Reportedly, this is not the first time that a government department has tried to grab the protected forestland of Cox's Bazar. A few years ago, the public administration ministry also planned to build a civil service academy in Cox's Bazar covering 700 acres of land that was declared a protected forest and also an ecologically critical area (ECA). Luckily, later, a parliamentary body strongly opposed the move, while the High Court also issued a stay order on it. Another such attempt was made in July this year, when a part of the Jungle Khuniya Palong reserved forest in Cox's Bazar was handed over to the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) by the government for building a residential training facility with funds from FIFA. What is more shocking is that the government de-reserved the 20-acre land for this purpose. This move faced widespread criticism from environmentalists and all concerned.
Coming back to the issue of building an open prison, we would like to make it clear that we are not against building such a facility which will have many modern facilities for the inmates, including scopes for fish farming, gardening and handicraft making. However, we strongly oppose building it on protected forestland, and urge the government to take the project somewhere else where the environmental damage will be minimal. Any incursion into our fast-depleting forest areas, however noble or practical the purpose, must be thwarted.
We hope the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, particularly the DoE, will remain vigilant against such moves to destroy our forests. We have ample laws and court directives in this regard and all government offices must abide by them.