The government is ready to go after influential individuals and industrial big shots who have long been grabbing forest land in Gazipur.
The plan is to launch a crash programme for evicting structures that had been set up by 97 grabbers – all of them industrialists, influential persons or wealthy individuals.
At its meeting on January 7, the seven-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forest Ministry, chaired by former minister Hasan Mahmud, directed the Forest Department to initiate the evictions.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the Forest Department identified a total 155 grabbers who have so far grabbed 556.28 acres of land in different areas of Gazipur’s Sal forest.
Of those identified, immediate eviction was recommended against 97 grabbers.
The document signed by the standing committee chairman reads: “The land which have been grabbed by influential, industry owners and well-off should be restored by taking a crash programme.”
Meanwhile, the land that has been grabbed by poor people should be restored through social forestry, it also reads.
“We have already sent a letter to the deputy commissioner of Gazipur to take the necessary action, as he is the authority to take eviction measures,” said the chief conservator of forest, Yunus Ali, who was also present at the standing committee meeting in January.
There had not been any such initiative in the past, Yunus Ali told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to the Forest Department, the total area of Sal forest in Bangladesh is around 120,000 hectares, which is 7.5% of total government-owned forest land.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said the move should be implemented immediately to save the gradually depleting Sal forest.
In addition, the government should make the grabbers pay compensation for the damage they had been doing to the forest for so long. “With the compensation money, the forest department could go for afforestation measures,” Rizwana said.
She, however, questioned the sincerity of the Forest Department’s intention of evicting the culprits.