Speakers at seminar demand a new Forest Act
Chief of Chakma Circle, Raja Devasish Roy, criticized the old Forest Act and the rule of the Department of Forest, demanding withdrawal of the cases filed against forest inhabitants.
He urged protecting the rights of forest dwellers in the plains as well as in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), and also criticized the government's social forestry initiative.
The Chakma chief said this at the seminar, "Forest Act, Rules and the Rights of Forest Dwellers," organized by the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Raja Devasish said: "Social forestry is neither social nor forestry and it is not social because it is controlled.
"It is being controlled by the Bangladesh Forest Department officials, not by the society or even the beneficiaries of the social forestry program. In the social forestry program, only a few types of plants like the Eucalyptus, Acacia Pulpwood, etc. are planted, and hence these woodlands cannot be recognized as natural forests which possess biodiversity.”
“There are issues concerning the implementation of social forestry in the plains as well, and this program is certainly completely unsuitable for the CHT. The people of CHT have rejected this program.
"The Forest Department should withdraw the cases against forest inhabitants, as these are false and were filed to harass these people," Raja added.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association (Bela) chief executive, said: “Eucalyptus need more water and no birds sit on this tree. Even, no other plants grow under this tree. It has destroyed the biodiversity balance in northern districts.
"The Forest Act is the only act which does not define the duty of the Forest Department and for this reason they got the chance to work without transparency. Whenever the government needs land, they go to the Forest Department for it."
Shamsul Huda, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) executive director, said: “The government is undertaking development projects in environmentally critical areas and in the forests, with approval from the Department of Environment. "These departments do whatever they are told by the government. So these departments should be abolished and an independent environment commission should be established and kept free from government influence and control.”
Justice Nizamul Haque Nasim presided over the seminar where Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, demanded a new Forest Act instead of amending an old and outdated law enacted in 1927.
“We should change our perspective on forest issues, forest inhabitants, and biodiversity. Forest dwellers do not destroy forests. Forests are destroyed to make money,” he said.