Confusion surrounds the identities of Thengar Char and Jaliyar Char, two islands located five kilometres from the estuary of the Meghna River and the Bay of Bengal, near Hatiya upazila of Noakhali.
Thengar Char is being represented to government high ups and the media as the designated island for the rehabilitation of the displaced Rohingya, who have been pouring into Bangladesh since August 25 to escape persecution by the Myanmar army in Rakhine state.
In reality, however, the development activities led by the Bangladesh Navy are being carried out on Jaliyar Char, which has been renamed Bhashan Char.
The Bangla Tribune has learned that the island is documented as Jaliyar Char by the Forest Department. This information has been verified by a number of local fishermen.
However, the local and district administrations have reportedly identified the island as Thengar Char. This has resulted in confusion between the Forest Department and the district administration.
The Forest Department is responsible for forestation in any newly emerged island in the Bay of Bengal. So, the department decides what to name a new island.
Also Read Part 5: Rohingya rehabilitation plan worries Hatiya locals
According to a Forest Department report, two new islands emerged on the northern region of the estuary between the Meghna River and the Bay of Bengal at different periods of time. The islands were named Thengar Char and Jaliyar Char respectively.
The island called Thengar Char was formed 12 years ago, and lies 15 kilometres east of mainland Hatiya upazila, and 12 kilometres southwest from Sandwip of Chittagong.
The Noakhali Coastal Forest Division started its activities on Thengar Char in 2010. So far, 4,843 acres of the island have undergone forestation, in the 2010-11 and 2013-14 fiscal years.
Following the forestation programme, 10,000 acres of land on the island was declared a preserved area.
The report further revealed that Thengar Char gets inundated by the high tide, and that the island’s landmass increases by up to 15,000 acres during the low tide.
The island has a oblate spherical shape, and is made of sand and soft muddy soil. It is high at the centre and low near the shores. The island is suffering erosion to its north and west shores. The nature of the soil and its regular flooding by seawater make farming and agriculture very difficult.
The Forest Department report also contains data on Jaliyar Char. The island emerged in the Bay of Bengal more than two decades ago. It is located 25 kilometres away from the Nalchira Ghat in Hatiya, 35 kilometres away from the Chairman Ghat in Boyarchar, and seven kilometres away from Sandwip in Chittagong.
Local fishermen started calling the island Jaillar Char [Fishermen’s Island in Bengali], and the Forest Department kept the name as Jaliyar Char.
16,111 acres of Mangrove and 39 acres of mount forestation have been carried out on the island. Following the decision to rehabilitate the Rohingya there, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina renamed the Jaliyar Char as Bhashan Char.
According to the Forest Department report, Bhashan Char has a landmass of 50,000 acres.
However, Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Khandaker Md Rezaul Karim told the Bangla Tribune that Bhashan Char has only 13,000 acres of landmass, of which only 5,000 acres are habitable.
“I have no clue as to how the Forest Department found 50,000 acres of land in Bhashan Char,” Reazul said. “We estimated the island at 13,000 acres. The matter will be settled after the conclusion of digital land survey there.”
The Bangla Tribune has learned that the report sent by the Forest Department to the Ministry of Environment & Forests on February 5 included data on Thengar Char but not on Jaliyar Char or Bhashan Char.
This meant that when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the Noakhali district administration to locate an island suitable for relocating the refugees, Thengar Char was chosen.
However, the Bangla Tribune also learned that during an inspection visit, a team of local and district administration officials mistakenly landed at Jaliyar Char, instead of Thengar Char.
They reportedly confused Jaliyar Char as Thengar Char, and designated the island as the project area for Rohingya rehabilitation. The prime minister later renamed Jaliyar Char as Bhashan Char.
However, the real Thengar Char, initially chosen for the rehabilitation project, continues to be referred to as “Thengar Char” in the documents of Forest Department and district administration.
The report on the real Thengar Char was compiled by Noakhali Coastal Forest Division Nalchira Range Officer Jamal Uddin Bhuiyan.
In his report, Jamal termed the Thengar Char “uninhabitable” due to a multitude of reasons. Most notably, he cited a lack of fresh water sources, flooding during high tides, and the soft and muddy soil incapable of supporting construction.
The report also revealed that Thengar Char frequently suffers from natural disasters, and is incapable of supporting a population.
Mihammad Ali, the Noakhali district Awami League adviser and also a former lawmaker in Hatiya constituency, told the Bangla Tribune the Forest Department is creating confusion regarding Bhashan Char.
“The forest department had raised objections when we sought information about Swarna Dwip, after the prime minister asked us to find a training area for Bangladesh Army,” he said.
“The department is also spreading confusion after we chose Bhashan Char for rehabilitating the Rohingya. The department does not like losing control of an island, so they spread confusion instead.”
Noakhali Forest Officer Md Tohidul Islam said his department had provided the government high ups with all the information they had sought.
Showing this correspondent a map hanging on his office wall, Tohidul said: “This map is from 2014. The island where the Rohingya rehabilitation project is being carried out is called Jaliyar Char or Bhasan Char, and Thengar Char is located another five kilometres southwest from there.”
Welcoming the government initiative to rehabilitate the Rohigya refugees, local lawmaker Ayesha ferdous told the Bangla Tribune: “The rehabilitation project is very important to us because of humanitarian reasons. The Rohingya people will face no problems in Bhashan Char, as long as the necessary infrastructures and a few police camps are built there.
“If we take all the necessary measures for properly rehabilitating the displaced Rohingya, the project will be successful,” she added.
The story was first published on Bangla Tribune.
Read the whole series:
Part 1: How habitable is Bhasan Char?
Part 2: The island that rises and falls with tide
Part 3: Bhasan Char: As unpredictable as the sea
Part 4: How exactly will Rohingyas be rehabilitated at Bhasan Char?
Part 5: Rohingya rehabilitation plan worries Hatiya locals