An Ecnec meeting set December 31, 2024 as the deadline to complete the project, at its last meeting on January 5
Even seven months after its approval, red tapes are holding back a much-hyped government project aimed at the sustainable conversation of the world's largest mangrove forest.
Tk1.5billion worth Sundarbans Conservation project got the go-ahead by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) at its last meeting on January 5 this year, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The meeting set December 31, 2024 as the deadline to complete the project.
But officials are yet to clear necessary files which are delaying take-off of the important project on the Sundarbans, home to famed Bengal Tigers, exotic flora and fauna.
Besides, the forest has worked as a natural shield to protect the coast from severe cyclones.
What's the project about?
The project will be implemented to protect the Sundarbans in a sustainable manner through the modernization of internal communication systems with ICT.
Surveys will be conducted to track the number of animals, their habitats and diseases and the characteristics of the conserved area and its environment under this project.
This project also aims at automating the conventional permit system and identity cards of about 30,000 collectors of the forest's resources and other beneficiaries, introduce a plan for 'Eco-tourism' and ensure training up the tourist guides.
Employment opportunities will also be created through the project for locals in excavation and re-excavation programs of ponds, canals and rivers of the Sundarbans.
"At least 3million people of 39 upazilas of Barisal division will get jobs on implementation of this project," said the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of West Sundarbans, Dr Abu Nasr Mohsin.
Programs will be conducted to establish, repair and maintain offices, residential buildings, barracks, wooden jetties, pontoons and to buy fast-moving vessels.
Besides, the officials appointed for safeguarding the vast forest area will be trained up, Khulna-based Geographic Information System (GIS) laboratory, computer software, software license and GPS tracking facilities will be improved under this project.
Smart patrolling will be introduced creating and enhancing information banks through the use of remote sensing and GIS technologies.
Distance between implementation and planning
No matter how optimistic and all-inclusive the project plan sounds the official preliminaries of starting the project like appointing a director is yet to be done.
According to the Forest Department sources, some names have been sent to the secretariat for the post of the project director. After getting approval from the environment, forest and climate change ministry the project work will begin in phases, they said.
Professor Anwarul Kadir, director of Sundarban Academy said such procrastination in project work is common in Bangladesh.
He said delayed start and last-moment hurried completion of projects often belies the objective.
"Negligence of the relevant authorities to conserve and develop the forest that protects the coastal region from the natural calamities becomes evident from such practice," he added.
However, Habibun Nahar, deputy minister of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change blamed the delay on the Covid-19 pandemic.
"As the process to appoint the project director has already started, hopefully it will soon kick off officially," she said.