THE depletion of natural forests detected to be the highest in 2006–2014 since 1930, as New Age reported on Wednesday, is gravely concerning in that it suggests that the forest department has failed to play its mandated role mainly because of irregularities in forest management. India’s National Remote Sensing Centre conducted a study, Development of National Database on Long-Term Deforestation 1930–2014 in Bangladesh, which shows a negative change in forest canopy density in Bangladesh. The report says that while dense forests occupied 51.3 per cent and open forests 48.7 per cent of the total forested areas in 1975, the ratio changed for the worse in 2014, with dense forests occupying 46 per cent and open forests 53 per cent of the total forest areas. And the highest rate of forest coverage loss took place in hill forests in the Chittagong region and the sal forest range at Madhupur in Tangail. Another study, Comprehensive Monitoring of Bangladesh Tree Cover Inside and Outside of Forests 2000–2014, shows that the tree cover loss area almost doubled from 2011 to 2006. The forest department in its assessment in October 2017 showed that 25 per cent of deforested areas were converted for use in agriculture and 58 per cent to scrub land in 1975–2014.
The studies in question put the major reasons for the loss of forested areas down to weak implementation of forest laws, insufficient demarcation of forest boundaries, non-sustainable forest management and a growing demand for land for industrial and infrastructural development. The findings brings to the fore the government’s failure in forest management. The situation has only been exacerbated, as former forest officials are quoted to have said, because of forest resource-hungry government agencies and unscrupulous local habitants. While the forest department has less control over hill forests, almost all quarters, including all relevant government agencies, have been blamed for the destruction of the forests, especially hill forests. A huge influx of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar till 2013 is also said to have intensified the pressure on the hill forests in Cox’s Bazar. This points to the lack of good governance in forest management. If the government means to protect the forested areas, and it must, it should first shore up its forest management policies. While it needs to rein in government agencies that have destroyed, and are destroying, forested areas and put a coordinated plan of action in place to contain forest depletion, it should ensure that people living in the hills have other options for sustainable livelihood.
Any plan to protect the forested area would hardly make any sense unless the communities living in forests are given other sources of livelihood. If the communities are made aware and involved in forest management, they will protect the forests in their own interest. Plans or programmes that might go against the local communities will not be sustainable. The government, under the circumstances, must shore up its forest management policies, by working on several fronts simultaneously, including community-based forestry, to head off any trouble that denuded forests might entail. It must also step up its efforts on the legal front for the protection of forests.
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