THE High Court Division’s directive of Thursday for the government to protect all forests and reserve forest land is welcome in the greater good of people. The court also ordered the cancellation of the lease of 7.1 acres of reserve forest land for the construction of a ship-breaking yard inside the reserve forest at Sitakunda. Expressing dismay at the environment and forest ministry for not moving court against the lease, the High Court noted that reserve forest land cannot be used for purposes other than forestation. While the Forest Act 1927 stipulates strict reservation and protection of forests and reserve forest land, there had worryingly been violations of the act in the past. A number of government agencies are reported to have used reserve forest land to build establishments in breach of the law. An estimate of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change says that about 1.6 lakh acres of forest land were handed over to or are used by government agencies for development projects.
While the official figure shows the total forest area to be 2.6 million hectares, accounting for about 17.4 per cent of the total land area, experts and environmentalists say that the figure is heavily inflated as it includes deforested areas, land given to government agencies and development projects and the figure should hover around 10 per cent. In such a situation, the government’s plan to increase forest land to 20 per cent of the total land area by 2030 keeping to the Sustainable Development Goal may not be executed if a careless lease-out of forest land continues. Disregard for forest and environment is all but 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. There are a number of projects that appear to be nothing short of feasting on forests. A case in point is the recent clearance for ‘five air-polluting cement factories’ in six kilometres of the Sunderbans, where biodiversity has already been at risk for the ongoing Rampal Power Plant work.
The government must realise that without paying proper attention to and ensuring the protection of forests and the environment, Bangladesh would not be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, which emphasise environmental development and safeguard. Measuring every development project not in monetary terms, but in environmental terms, is what is required for the good of the current and future generations. The government must step back on allowing its agencies or others to feast on forest land.
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