Endangered reserve forest and our liability
The Daily Prothom Alo, a reputed Bangla daily newspaper, published a report on 21 March 2018, entitled "Sangu Noder Pongu Bon" (paralyzed forest of Sangu River) by nature and biodiversity specialist Reza Khan. The writer expressed his experience based on his recent visit to Sangu River and forest area. He has reported a disappointing scenario of both Sangu River and forest.
I agree with him Reza Khan. In 2017, I conducted my MSS thesis on Sangu Reserved Forest and did ethnographic fieldwork to understand the deforestation of Sangu Reserved Forest and its impact on life and livelihood. My experience is similar to Reza Khan's experience. And this writing is an attempt to unmask some hard reality.
Sangu Reserved Forest is situated in Thanchi Upazilla (sub-district) of Bandarban district under the administration of Bandarban Forest Division. This forest was notified as reserved in the year of 1881. Due to inaccessibility, Sangu forest remained beyond management system. The Provincial Government of East Pakistan patronized to prepare a working plan entitled "Working Plan of Sangu Matamuhuri Reserved Forest: for the Period from 1967-68 to 1986-87". But it was not implemented. After establishing Bandarban Forest Division in 1982, they took the management responsibility of Sangu Reserved Forest under Thanchi range (hierarchically next position to Forest Division).
Reza Khan stated Sangu Reserved Forested as 'Bald Headed Forest' and discussed the negative impact of deforestation on Sangu River including some factors of deforestation. He also raised the questions that, "if the human being lives in Reserved Forest, where will the wild species live?"
Now, I must explain why I prone to study on reserved forest. I have studied courses on Environmental Sociology. My focus was on issues like deforestation. The idea of my research initially began with the conversation with my supervisor Dr. Khairul Islam Chowdhury concerning deforestation in Bangladesh, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Dr. Chowdhury is working on the issue of CHTs. I was concerned about contemporary challenges to climate issues including deforestation. Therefore, my research is a part of the shared concerned with my supervisor.
Dr Chowdhury's (2014) work suggests that the deforestation of hill forests in the CHTs both USF and the reserved has been a historical phenomenon, dating back to the British rule. But the deforestation of the Sangu is a recent phenomenon. The causes of deforestation of Sangu Reserved Forest are quite different from USF and other reserved forests in CHTs. An intensive literature review, key informants interview, local narrative, and household survey have been deployed to collect relevant information.
The study suggests that the Sangu Reserved Forest remained beyond management system from the British period to the present time due to remoteness, insecurity, and inaccessibility. Groups with political backing brought in thousands of labourers to cut the forest from 1996-2001. Another issue which made pressure on land was setting up of a Hydro-electronic power plant in Kaptay. It destroyed a vast amount of plain land near the river, and as a result, the nearest reserved forest faced a huge pressure, and people are pushed to migrate into the deep forest.
I agree with Khairul Chowdhury who claimed three reasons broadly for deforestation in the reserved forest in CHTs in his Ph.D. dissertation namely a) management policies and practices, b) militarization and encroachment and c) illegal logging and corruption.
Besides, I also found that corruption in the name of 'jote permit' (permission for cutting trees from self-land), increased of population within reserved area, lack of proper monitoring and plan, ineffective laws of reserved forest, effect of development project, conflict between forest department, and local administration are also responsible for deforestation of Sangu Reserved Forest.
Deforestation of Sangu Reserved Forest has adverse effect on forest ecosystem and livelihood. The fertility of land has decreased, water level of Jhiri (water fall where local people collect daily drinking water) is decreasing, river flow is disrupting, soil erosion is occurring and falling into Sangu River.
From the study, it is recommended that rehabilitation of the inhabitants should be done as soon as possible, though it started by 'Ektee Bari EkteeKhamar Project' (One house one farm project) under the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperative of Bangladesh. At the same time, to reduce forest dependency alternative and sustainable employment opportunities should be created for people living near the forest area. There is no denying that we have to save our reserved forest.
Md Helal Uddin is Lecturer (Sociology), GED Cell, Eastern University