Grabbers feast on forest - Bangladesh | Land Portal

hrimp enclosures set up in Badarkhali area of Cox's Bazar district after felling thousands of trees that were planted in the coastal area to tackle natural disaster. Photo: Muhammad Ali Jinnat

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Rampant land grabbing by local influential people has threatened the very existence of the mangrove forest along the Cox's Bazar coast.
The land is being stripped off the forest to set up shrimp enclosures and salt farming areas as the authorities concerned are indifferent to the problem.
The then government had grown the forest in 1965 to protect people from natural disasters. Since then, several hundred crore taka have been spent on the project.
There are about 17,214 acres of mangrove forest and hilly land in the district under the forest department, according to the Coastal Forest Department in Chittagong.
Of the total area, Moheshkhali accounts for more than 12,991 acres, Chokoria 595 acres, Cox's Bazar Sadar upazila 1,258 acres, Kutubdia 578 acres, Teknaf 883 acres and Pekua 909 acres.
Land grabbers have already captured about 5,000 acres and set up around 500 shrimp enclosures, said Enamul Haque Bhuiyan, assistant conservator of forests at the district office of Coastal Forest Department.
Mouzas such as Sonadia, Hoanak, Ghotibhanga and Gorokghata in Sonadia and Bodarkhali under Chokoria upazilas have suffered the most. Some 300 shrimp enclosures have been built there.

Land grabbers in Bodarkhali were so desperate that they poured petrol to burn down part of the forest to capture 315 acres for shrimp farming, said sources.
The forest department owns 2,737 acres in Sonadia island, out of which local influential people have already grabbed 640 acres.  

Shrimp enclosures. Photo: Muhammad Ali Jinnat
Shrimp enclosures. Photo: Muhammad Ali Jinnat

Forest officials said they lacked staff and firearms to guard the area. Around 105 forest staff have only sticks to face the land grabbers, while the staff in Sonadia and Ghotibhanga upazilas have seven old guns.
The district administration leases out part of the mangrove forest to influential quarters on long-term basis without any assessment of forest conservation, complained forest officials.
They added: Land grabbers encroach upon the forest in connivance with corrupt officials in the district revenue and land offices.
SM Monirul Islam, divisional forest officer in Coastal Forest Department, said they will not be able to protect the forest if leasing out of forest land to influential people goes on.
The department has so far filed 111 cases against about 1,500 people in Gorokghata, Moheshkhali, Teknaf, Chorondwip, Kutubdia and Sonua for grabbing land, he added.
Jafar Alam, additional deputy commissioner (revenue) in the district, however, refuted the allegations made by the forest department.
“Field visits are conducted before any coastal land is leased out for shrimp farming. The field visits look into the present condition of the land, its real owners, the applicants seeking to take lease and whether the land is suitable for farming,” he said.
“We send the lease proposals to higher authorities for approval only after completing all procedures,” he said.
 Following a writ petition, the High Court in 2000 had ordered the land ministry not to lease out any coastal land in Cox's Bazar.  
In response to another writ petition filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, the HC in June 2012 ordered the ministry not to lease out 2.25 lakh acres of coastal land.
Responding to another writ petition by barrister Tania Amir, the court in the following month asked the government to declare the coastal mangrove forest as a protected forest.
Environmentalists said the authorities concerned are not taking any initiative to protect the forest. Rather, they are playing blame-game.
Fazlul Kader Chowdhury, president of the Cox's Bazar chapter of leading green platform Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, blamed both the district administration and the forest department for destroying the forest.
“They are blaming each other to shirk their responsibilities,” he mentioned.

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