A PROPER conservation of forested land is considered important in maintaining ecological balance, managing rising temperature and protecting habitat in times of cyclones. In the same vein, a Sustainable Development Goal is set which requires governments to stop deforestation by 2020 and have 20 per cent of the landmass as forests by 2030 with 70 per cent tree density. Considering the amount of forest long lost, it seems unlikely that the government would be able to meet the goal. The Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation at a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the environment, forest and climate change ministry says that 279,096 acres of forest land remains illegally occupied. The forest department earlier allcoated 43,095 acres of land for the Forest Industries Development Corporation, which has gone out of its hand. Since the 1970s, government agencies have made no coordinated efforts to maintain record so that a complete status of the forest land could be projected. Inaction on part of all the authorities concerned in both keeping record and conserving forest is, therefore, disconcerting. It suggests that the government is insincere about its pledge of environment protection.
In the context that the authorities have no record of the area of forested land having grabbed, the parliamentary committee recommends that the forest department should list the forest land occupiers and submit it to the committee in three months. It also recommends that the authorities concerned should form a national task force to reclaim the grabbed forest land. The recommendations appear promissory and can be effective only if they are implemented in time. Unlike the National River Conservation Commission, the proposed task force should be given the powers so that its action does no remain limited to giving recommendations. Another important issue that has not come up in the parliamentary committee discussion is the acquisition of forest land for development purposes by the government. As various green groups say, a significant portion of forest land has been handed over to government agencies and establishments or used for development projects. At least 22 projects taken up by the government and deemed important for the nation are on forest land between Mirsarai in Chattogram and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar. The Mirsarai mangrove forest, spanning 22,500 acres of land, was created in 1976; most of it has now been leased out to the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority. The government’s ecologically insensitive and short-sighted development plans have also played a role in deforestation.
It is assuring that the parliamentary committee has voiced its concern about the disappearing forest land but all the authorities concerned must ensure that the committee recommendations are implemented in a timely manner, particularly the setting up of a task force with the required powers to reclaim the forest land that has so far been grabbed. Environmental concerns must be prioritised in development policy to save forest land.
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