Rights activists on Wednesday asked the government to recognise the rights of people living in forests in its policies and the laws.
They voiced the demand at a discussion hosted by the Association for Land Reform and Development at National Press Club.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan demanded making a new law stipulating the rights of the people living in the forests as the existing laws deny these rights.
She said that the new law should protect the right to livelihood of these people.
Rizwana pointed out that the existing laws also did not define the duties and the responsibilities of the forest department’s personnel.
She said that the forest department was manned by most corrupt and inefficient personnel resulting in continuous massive deforestation.
She cited the example of the 44,000-acre Madhupur Forest getting reduced to barely 3,000-acre forest.
In his keynote paper, Chakma Raja Devashish Roy said that the Bangladesh forest department deforested the country’s natural forests to plant trees for timber.
‘Our forest department is doing this as it does not know what is forest,’ said Barrister Devashish.
He said, ‘Our forests deteriorated during the post-independence period.’
‘Our forest department only curbs the rights of forest people,’ said Raja Devashish.
‘We had forests when we had not forest department but now we have a forest department but no forest,’ he said.
ALRD executive director Shamsul Huda said that the government was evicting forest people on the pretext of development.
Other speakers said that if the government hands over forests to people who depend on forests they would protect the forests.
They said that government was destroying forests in the name of development and tourism.
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Drong demanded an indigenous policy to protect their rights as in many countries.
He said that the government was planting trees by destroying natural forests.
Justice Nizamul Haque chaired the discussion also addressed by ALRD deputy executive director Rowshan Jahan Moni.
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