Bangladesh has a total land area of 148,460 square kilometres of which 17.5 per cent of land represents the forest area. Chittagong hill districts have one of the largest forests in the country with an area of 4,600 square kilometres and fall in the category of hill forests (mixed-evergreen forests) which is among the major types of forest in Bangladesh. The districts of Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban are referred to collectively as the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
About 483,000 hectares of forest land in CHT is managed under the provision of the Bangladesh Forest Department. The Forest department is a ministry of Bangladesh that is autonomous. They own these forests on behalf of people to manage them sustainably. “The Forest Act 1927” was imposed all over Bangladesh to protect the reserved forests.
To gain the economy and protection of these forests, the forest department claims that they limit the amount of cutting down trees to regenerate those ecosystems. But in reality, we see another picture. There is a thing called GLAD alerts which tells the current and past deforestation percentage of an area through satellites or gives alerts which areas are likely to get deforestation.
The GLAD deforestation alert service reported that in 2020 during lockdown the deforestation alert was 77 per cent higher in CHT than the alerts from 2019 in total. The bar chart shows the comparison of 2019 and 2020 monthly deforestation alerts. We can see highly increased deforestation alerts in April and May in 2020.
The GLAD deforestation alert service reported that in CHT from July 2020 to July 2021 there are 819 VIIRS fire alerts which are highly considerable. Comparing 2012 deforestation was normal but let's not forget that the forest act was not highly monitored at that time and internal corruption leads the greedy businessman to do massive deforestation.
But If we compare the deforestation alerts with the recent five years before the covid-19 pandemic deforestation is the same or moderate-high; a plus-minus relation.
During an investigation of deforestation in these hilly areas, investigators got some dangerous truths like forest robbers. Now the question arises what that forest robbers term means. It means a group of people who cut down trees and sell those timbers illegally without giving a portion of profit to the government.
TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) is an organization that works against corruption. The Director of TIB said that there is a lot of illegal grabbing of forest land in Bangladesh and the forest department is continuously undergoing failure in recovering those lands due to internal corruption in the forest department.
TIB study added that government officials auction higher postings at a bigger price to gain a handful of profit in forest projects corruption. They added that during illegal deforestation politicians, top officials take a good amount of bribes. This incident explains the massive deforestation in CHT.
As an environment student, I know the importance of forests for an environment, a country, and the world. Corruption is not a new term in our country which works like a virus. As citizens of this country, we need to put emphasis on the forest acts and the vision and mission of the forest department to minimize irregularity in monitoring forests.
In recent years the forest department has taken a lot of initiatives, projects, management plans to recover, develop forests in our country which is a positive step. So according to these, they should also develop their responsibilities to monitor, rescue the plans according to forest acts, and impose punishment for an offence. Though the Forest department is autonomous a community should be introduced for them to look out their steps.
I believe there are more causes and risks in deforestation in CHT which will be recognized slowly. By enforcing forest acts strictly we can solve these problems, and regenerate, and recover unclassified forest lands for the future generation.
The writer is a student, North South University