(Written by Abdullah Al Mahmud)
2 December 2009- Only 200 trees are left on the green forest belt developed on some 125 acres of land along the Sonaichhari coast under Sitakunda upazila in Chittagong. Massive plundering of trees in two phases within a span of five months left the belt in this sorry state.
Within four hours Sunday night several thousand trees were chopped down on over a half-kilometre stretch of the same Sonaichhari coast, where over 15,000 Keora and Bain trees were plundered on July 03 this year.
Sources said the massive plundering of government reserved green forest took place at the directives of some local influential people to clear space for setting up three to four ship-breaking yards.
Department of Forest (DoF) yesterday filed a case in this connection. Local forest bit officer Md Hasan Mia filed the case with Sitakunda Police Station accusing 14 known and over 1,100 unknown people.
The 14 accused are Zahur Member, Lablu, Hares, Rubel, Alamgir, Zoinal, Shahed, Dilip, Rumi, Didar, Belal, Monir, Shafiul Alam, and Mamun.
“We would file a petition before a court seeking injunction on construction work on the denuded land,” said Divisional Forest Officer (DFO coastal range) Khaleq Khan while talking to The Daily Star yesterday.
Khaleq said, “With a view to protecting the coastal people from tidal surges and cyclones, the DoF started developing the green forest belt along Sitakunda coast back in 1989 and since then some 2 lakh saplings have been planted in several phases.”
Of them, over 25,000 grew up to be trees before the plundering took place, said the DFO.
The DFO said, “We developed the green forest on the 125 acres of land as per law that entrusts DoF with the responsibility of afforestation on newly emerged shoals and shores, which are considered as khas land.”
“The trees that grew there and the landscape itself would testify that the land is khas land. But unfortunately the land could not be included in the list of Khas land and some local influential people are now obtaining mutation of ownership,” said the DFO blaming the district administration for indulging in bad practices.
The DFO also expressed resentment over the silence of Water Development Board saying, “The retaining walls of the ship-breaking yard are being erected on coastal embankment of WDB. If WDB came forward then DoF and WDB jointly could do something to check the advances.”
When contacted Assistant Commissioner (land) Zakir Khondoker said, “As per the BS Khatian, the land, from where the trees were felled, belongs to private ownership. One has to take lease of shore or waterfront from the district administration for setting up any ship-breaking yard on his land behind it.”
“We do not lease out shore that has forest on one side for proposed ship-breaking yards,” said the AC adding, “We did not lease out the shore or waterfront around the land where the plundering took place Sunday night.”
Asked about the land dispute and measures to protect the forest, local Union Nirbahi Officer Abdur Rouf said, “We would hold a meeting tomorrow [Wednesday] with all concerned to settle the dispute over land.”
“I have visited the spot today. Some of the accused were captured and police was patrolling the area. We would take steps as per law to check any illegal advances,” said Rouf.
Our Cox’s Bazar correspondent reports: some 30,000 trees of Paraban, a coastal forest developed along Katabunia and Khurermukh coast of Teknaf, were felled on September 10 this year.
Forest Officer Golam Rahman of Teknaf Range filed a case on September 29 accusing 84 people. However, there has been no progress in the case after the officer-in-charge of the police station concerned was transferred immediately after the case was lodged.