November 2, 2023
DHAKA – Encroachers have destroyed 95 acres of the Gohira mangrove forest in Chattogram’s Anwara upazila and turned the area into fish enclosures.
They began chopping trees, digging ponds and building dams for this purpose six years ago, said locals. These are all punishable offences under the Forest Act, 1927.
Despite knowing what is going on, the forest department has not taken any action to evict the encroachers of the 250-acre forest it had earlier developed to protect the upazila from natural disasters like cyclones.
The department planted 10,000 trees, including Keora, Gewa, and Bain, on the Bay of Bengal and the Sangu sections of Raipur union in 1991-92 to build the forest.
The forest is under the process of being made into a natural reserve. But this correspondent, during a recent visit, observed that there might not be any forest left if tree felling continues any longer.
Encroachers have dug up a huge area inside the forest.
One of the workers, who had been working there for the last six months, told The Daily Star, “We are working as per instructions of the farm owner.”
Locals and forest officials said a syndicate, led by one Zahur Ahmed alias Zoku Majhi, is destroying the forest.
Asked, Zahur said, “We are farming on our ancestral land.” He did not elaborate further.
Asked how encroachers are farming fish in the forest, Md Belayet Hossain, divisional forest officer of the Chattogram Coastal Forest Division, said, “I am unaware of fish farming in the forest as field staffers did not notify me.”
The DFO said he would take action against the culprits and send letters to local administration to evict them.
Imran Hossain, a local journalist, said, “The embankment built in the area is also collapsing as the waves of the sea are hitting it directly since the forest has been destroyed there.”
Mohammed Bakhtiar, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon’s Chattogram chapter, said every year, many residents of the coastline lose their properties and homes to the sea due to the absence of mangrove forests.
Raipur Union Parishad Chairman Amin Sharif said, “The forest is dying because of the grabbers. The forest department must act on it.”
Shafiqul Islam, ranger of the Banshkhali range of Chattogram Coastal Forest Division, said, “We have only two forest guards in the Premasia beat office. It’s not possible to keep an eye over thousand acres of forestland with such small manpower.”
The forest department should take legal action against the culprits, he added.
Mohammad Kamal Hossain, former professor at the Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Chittagong University, said, “The roots of mangrove trees protect soil from erosion. The forest also absorbs storm surges caused during extreme weather events such as cyclones. Besides, these trees provide habitats for fish, birds, and reptiles.”