THE disappearance of forest land, despite the pledges to protect forests and save the wildlife and environment, and little efforts to reclaim them are gravely worrying. The country has lost 4.58 lakh acres of forest land, including 1.38 lakh acres of reserve forest, in 70 years since the cadastral survey ended in 1940, official figures show. The forest department, which observed International Day of Forests on Sunday, has so far handed over 1.60 lakh acres of forest land to agencies such as the Roads and Highways Department, the Bangladesh Railway, the Armed Forces Division, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guard Bangladesh for developing infrastructure. Moreover, district administrations and the Land Reforms Board have leased out an estimated 11,000 acres of forest land to big businesses for developing farms, factories, housing and other enterprises while more than 1,00,000 people have grabbed an estimated 2.87 lakh acres of forest land for farming and building factories, resorts, recreation parks, picnic spots, film cities and schools, among others. The department, however, does not have specific data on the forest land that have been transformed into roads by local government agencies.
All this points to a sorry state of the efforts to protect the forests and reclaim the lost forest land. Official figures show the total forested area to be 2.6 million hectares, nearly 17.4 per cent of the country’s total land area. Experts say that the figure is highly inflated as it includes deforested areas, land given to government agencies and development projects and that the actual forest area is about 10 per cent of the total land area. In such a situation, the government’s plan to increase forested land to 20 per cent of the total land mass by 2030 as per the sustainable development goal is highly unlikely to happen. Disregard for forests and the environment is glaringly visible in all sectors of development. Unplanned and imbalanced development policies and action relegate the environment issue to secondary considerations, which will cost the country and its people heavily in the long run. Already a fourth of the wildlife has been categorised as threatened, with many having so far disappeared, because of the loss of forests.
The forest department has a list of grabbers and is reported to have sent 7,000 eviction proposals to deputy commissioner’s offices for evicting illegal businesses on a priority basis. A challenge that the department and other authorities face to reclaim grabbed land is the pendency of several thousand cases with courts. The government must, therefore, take effective steps to protect and reclaim forest land. The government must also realise that without ensuring the protection of forests and the environment, Bangladesh would not be able to meet the sustainable development goals, which emphasise environmental development and safeguarding the environment and its elements.
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