The Daily Star – Felling of trees in Sitakunda coastal belt

8 July 2009 – Swift, firm action must follow court order

The stay order served by the Supreme Court in the matter of the recent razing of trees along the coastal belt in Sitakunda stresses once more the need for firm action against those who seek to destroy the country’s ecology. Indeed, when a group of influential people cut down as many as 15,000 trees across a 40-acre forest belt in Sitakunda in the last few days in order to build ship-breaking yards there, it became absolutely clear that the environment is still at risk from predatory elements. More significantly, when the emphasis in recent years has been on an expansion of afforestation along the sea belt owing to the frequency of natural disasters, the destruction of the trees is a clear affront to those, both in government and civil society, who have been involved in trying to make the coastal regions safer for those inhabiting it.

Now that the Supreme Court has stayed all tree-felling activities for two weeks, it should be for the authorities, especially the forest department, to go into swift and effective action in defence of the green belt. It is encouraging to note that the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) has been playing an active role through initiating legal measures against the plunderers of natural beauty. That work must be complemented by the forestry authorities through a reexamination of the lease under which those engaged in destroying the trees have reportedly been operating. In this connection, the divisional forest officer’s allegation that the land administration authorities have been remiss in supplying his office with details of the lease relating to the area where the tree were cut down raises a pertinent question of how bureaucracy often subverts the public good. In the greater public interest, the land authorities must come up with the documents so that the forestry department can move swiftly to reclaim the expanse of land where the trees used to be. There is an absolute need here for governmental control along the coastal belt as well as all other areas where forestry is a part of the environmental pattern.

An important point raised by BELA is that those behind the felling of the trees must be moved against. This can be done through demanding compensation from them. Where the matter of a lease of such green areas is concerned, the authorities must seriously rethink a cancellation, through an employment of legal means, of it and particularly because such grants of lease run counter to the government’s plan of developing and conserving the ecology. It is not too late to reclaim the forests from those tempted by thoughts of the profits to be made by stripping them of their natural cover.

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