Forest management in Bangladesh: Loopholes and inadequacies
It is needless to cite the importance and significance of forests in the survival of human being and wild animals. Forests contribute to the economy and put an impact on maintaining ecological balance. The forestry sector appends about 3-4% to overall GDP and avowedly employs nearly 2.5% of the labour force (BBS 2000). Despite being a selfless auxiliary, forests in Bangladesh have been depleted and degraded in volume, area and quantity by the period.
Among the multiple factors behind this impropriety with forests are- indigenous forest dwellers who have their cruxes, migrants, who had to move to forests due to problems in their place of origin, the timber industries, transforming the forest lands into agricultural lands, unjust use of forest woods particularly in the brickfields and other industries, total banishment of undergrowth and excessive expenditure of forest materials for domestic purpose. Apart from all these factors, is there any mammoth factor that is hidden behind this wrongdoing with the forests? Let's figure it out.
Forest Department works as an integral part of the ministry of Environments and Forests and is empowered to superintend the forest resources and Governmental forest lands. A country must have 25% forestlands whereas according to the Forest Department, Bangladesh has 46,52,250 acres which is only 12.76% of the total volume. A TIB report suggests, forestlands decreased around 4,32,250 acres over the last two decades. The report adds, forest department managed to rescue only 8792 acres in the last 5 years.
Up to the year 2019, 2,87,453 acres of land were possessed through illegal means. Forest Department has been vested with the proprietorship of forests thoroughly whereto the Department of Environment was only given the monitoring and enforcement capacity. The TIB research discovered up to 61% embezzlement during the allotment of funds for accomplishing forestation projects by the Forest Department and the policymakers at the upper echelon and the personal officers along with some top officials generally take the bribes.
In the appointment and transfer of departmental posts such as forest range officers, beat officers, chief or deputy chief conservator, project director, divisional forest officers, etc. in the department, large sums of money are transacted. So, the report of TIB identifies that the forest department itself is playing the role of lawbreakers.
The forest scammers are politically influenced. Despite objection from the Department of Environment, Forest Department has been permitted to operate coal-fired power projects and also some mega projects which are harmful to the environment right beside the reserved forests. This somehow implies the inadvertence and tendency to disobey the instructions or rules. Stolen woods from forests are mostly delivered in the brickfield industries where direct interference of the Beat officers is clear.
Rule 5A (2) of the Social Forestry Rules, 2004 dictates clearly who will be listed as the beneficiaries. But in reality, exactly the opposite scenario has been witnessed. There exists a direct or indirect intervention in the selection of beneficiaries. The rich and politically influential people are enlisted where the ultra-poor community should be given the topmost priority. So, there are lots of underhand issues and hidden money-making processes.
One can easily get the accessibility to protected forests who gets the license from the Forest Department. Once someone gets the license, he gets all the authority to extract woods and products from the forest. To expedite the regulations of protected forests, the co-management process was launched through the Protected Area Rules. In reality, only 3-4 of the total protected forests are guided by the rules. So, the Protected Area Rules are not functional in true sense. The subject of sustainable and accountable forest management is in question.
Forest Act, 1927 which was enacted by the British is still the basic law by which forests are being monitored in Bangladesh. The first and foremost mission of the British was to boost up their economy by extracting resources of the Indian sub-continent. Not only economic advancement but also in composing their infrastructural development, our resources contributed a major role.
One of the biggest loopholes of this Act is, the Forest Act, 1927 does not talk about forest protection, conservation and improvement of quality. Rather this law is mostly focused on how you can generate money through this Act because this law was created from the British colonial perspective. Even today, we are extracting the benefits of this Act damnifying our forests. From then to still now, we have failed to abolish this law and bring a sustainable, environment-friendly law into force. Either the policymakers, legislative and experts are too negligent or they are simply incompetent to change the law.
Interestingly, the way this Forest Act, 1927 was formed, an incident like deforestation is unimaginable. Where someone can be subjected to the non-bailable offense for petty cases like cattle trespass, we cannot think of deforestation there. But unfortunately, in collaboration of the dishonest forest department officials and local influential people, the forests are being deforested and possessed.
These were not destroyed in one day. The main reason behind all these activities is the absolute proprietorship given to the Forest Department. A recent survey conducted by FAO found that the rate of deforestation has increased up to 37,700 hectares per year. The research of USAID and CIDA also tells, 50% of the total forests have been destroyed within the last 20 years. According to the estimation of the forest resource management project, the ratio of supply and demand for timber and fuel wood is drastically inconsistent. So, it is high time, we made the Forest Department more functional and accountable and saved our forests from deforestation by implementing a dynamic forest law.
The writer is a student of Law,
North South University (NSU)