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Saving forests: Sermons not enough  

Shihab Sarkar | Published: July 01, 2019 21:56:43


Against the backdrop of vanishing forests in the county, the increasing rush of tree lovers to various tree fairs seems amazing. A recent spectacular tree-related event in the capital witnessed similar types of people crowding the stalls showcasing saplings of different trees. The truth that underlies the popular enthusiasm for trees is the general people nurture an inherent passion for trees. They love to be in close contact with trees. In the nationwide frenzied felling of trees and clearing of forests, the tree lovers continue to grow woodlands in courtyards and greater neighbourhoods. But the stark reality is trees are grown in this country to finally become exposed to syndicates of loggers. Had there been no love for trees on private level, large swathes of the country would long have given the look of sheer barren patches of lands.

Alongside the heartening visuals of people's love for trees, the scenes of aggrieved nature activists condemning the authorities' apathy towards conservation continue to be there. Discussions, seminars and rallies never mince words to point out the myriad corrupt practices adopted by influential people in felling trees. The bitter reality that receives spotlight at these meets is the collusion between unscrupulous people and a section of employees at the local forest department and related offices. Environment and biodiversity preservation activists have long been demanding that time-befitting and effective forest conservation laws be in place. But to no avail. All their demands and recommendations fall on deaf ears.

On several occasions in the recent times, the leitmotif of proposals made by the civil society members and activists remained focused on one issue: Framing a new act for conservation of the land's forest resources. Conservationists unequivocally observe that the existing act formulated in 1927 is full of vagueness. Some of them have observed that the law has no guidelines for preservation of forests. Moreover, the 1927 Act does not spell out the responsibility of government officials concerned. It skirts the role of the department of forests in its prime task of conservation. Renewed emphasis has been laid on the question of forest management. Activists do not fail to bring into focus the indecisiveness of the government in dealing with the allegedly rampant corruption and irregularities on the part of the forest department officials.

A distressing trend has for some time been vitiating the scenario. It began with clearing a vast natural forest to make space for building concrete structures in the country's southeastern region. Once it started, with faint protests from the environmental forums, it began replicating throughout the country. Nature conservationists have seen in the widespread grabbing of forestlands the portents of a catastrophe in the making. It was because even patches of social forestry were not spared. At the end of the day, the power and hubris of the tree-fellers reigned supreme. The enterprising persons behind the raising of social forestry now have to bow down to power and influence. The Forest Act of 1927 was formulated by the British colonial rulers. They did not shoulder any responsibility for preservation of the forests. In a paper read out by Debashish Roy, Chief of the Chakma Circle in Chittagong Hill Tracts, at a roundtable in Dhaka recently, he touched upon the salient features now defining the natural forestlands. He has observed that the Department of Forest realises the importance of trees. But there are doubts if they have clear ideas about forests, and their importance. He said caustically, "When forests were in their thriving form, there was no forest department. It was after they entered the scene, the destruction of forest lands began."

It is now known to all that the colonial British rulers formulated the forest act to collect wood for use in the railway and building of ships. They apparently did not have any obligation for the conservation of forests. Roy was quite rational in pointing out how such an anti-forest law could be in operation today. In India, a new forest law has been made to ensure that the forest-dependent communities can exercise their right to protests. Amendments have been brought in the Forest Act of Nepal. In Bangladesh, it is the anti-environment racketeers who call the shots in endeavours to preserve trees and forests. These groups comprise a section of community leaders and corrupt elements in the administration. To speak acerbically, at the moment the formal calls for forest preservation in Bangladesh is a proposition filled with hollow rhetoric. These one-sided exhortations are feared to continue to encourage the crooks. With little serious efforts to bring changes to the existing act, the overall situation will emerge as a carry-on from the past. In the interregnum, the communities indigenous to forests will eventually be destined to thin out in their density --- and, finally, to meet their complete displacement in the future. The mainland forest-rearing, and the tree plantation ventures undertaken by committed conservationists are also set to fizzle out. In a country with less than the mandatory 25 per cent forest coverage, all this is feared to expedite the making of an environmental crisis.

 

shihabskr@ymail.com  

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