International Day of Forests will be observed today in the country amid the disappearance of 4.58 lakh acres of forestlands, including 1.38 lakh acres of reserve forests, in 70 years since the completion of the cadastral survey in 1940.
Bangladesh Forest Department officials said that the agency had to hand over 1.60 lakh acres of forestlands to agencies like the Roads and Highways Department, the Bangladesh Railway, the Armed Forces Division, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guard Bangladesh for developing numerous infrastructures.
District administrations and the Land Reforms Board have leased out an estimated 11,000 acres of forestlands to big businesses for developing farms, factories, housing and other enterprises in Savar, Gazipur, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar, they said.
Over 1,00,000 people have grabbed an estimated 2.87 lakh acres of forestlands for agricultural activities and to develop factories, resorts, recreation parks, picnic spots, film cities and schools, among others, they said.
The occupiers include, they said, businesspeople, politicians, former bureaucrats, showbiz stars, tens of thousands of landless people and ethnic minority groups.
But the department has no data about the forestlands that have been transformed into roads by local government bodies.
Marking International Day of Forests, the forest department has organised a programme at its head office today.
The programme includes discussions and handing over cheques to people as recognitions to their social plantation programmes.
Chief conservator of forests Md Amir Hossain Chowdhury said that the department had already made lists of grabbers which were handed over to the environment, forest and climate change ministry, the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry and the deputy commissioners concerned.
‘The list of the forestland grabbers is available on the department website. We have also given 7,000 eviction proposals to deputy commissioners’ offices for evicting the illegal businesses on priority basis,’ Amir said.
Negotiating with individual grabbers, who developed farmlands, the department has restored 971 acres of forestlands recently, he said.
‘The major challenge that we are facing for reclaiming the forestlands is the pendency of several thousand cases with different courts,’ Amir said.
‘During land surveys, many forestlands were recorded as private properties while many grabbers produced forged Records of Rights in their favour,’ he said.
Forest minister Md Shahab Uddin, however, expressed determination to reclaim the illegally-occupied forestlands from the grabbers and to control further illegal occupations.
‘We have asked land ministry officials and district administration officials for taking measures to protect the forestlands,’ he said.
Initiating projects on forestlands would be discouraged, said the minister, adding that they had taken projects to expand the forest coverage from 22.37 per cent of the country’s total area to the ideal coverage level of 25 per cent by 2030.
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