People engaged in the destruction of the country's bounty of nature seem to have at last discovered yet another ideal spot. It is Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). We have for long been marvelling at the beauty of the dense forests and the arrays of lush green hills in this region. Domestic tourists hardly miss an opportunity to visit the three districts that comprise the CHT. Nature-loving people making trips to the area invariably discover the charms of these tourist spots. All this is now alarmingly poised to be passed into oblivion.
The sullying of the sylvan beauty of CHT has already begun. First, it appeared in the form of hill levelling. Of late, tree-felling has been going on in full swing. Few places are there in the forests where one would find their characteristic quiet. The harsh sounds of axe and chainsaws overwhelm the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves.
Both the indigenous people and the poor settlers from the mainland know who the tree fellers are. So do the forest authorities and the other agencies in charge of the trees. The existence of brick fields in the vicinity with piles of log is common knowledge. One need not elaborate on the fact that almost all the trees thus felled end up being an ideal fuel for burning clay bricks in massive furnaces.
Thanks to the indiscriminate felling of trees, Bangladesh now has an area far less than the mandatory cover of woodlands -- 10 per cent of a country's territory. The country has lost its required forest cover long time back. Its present size of protected forests is 116,700 hectares. It is equal to 5.2 per cent of the state forest land and less than 1.0 per cent of the country's total area. Against this backdrop, the tree felling syndicates' swoop on the traditionally verdant forest lands portends a grim future for the country's ecological balance. It is not only the environment that awaits bad days. With the disappearance of forests gaining speed, the socio-economic benefits from them are set to go through abrupt shocks. The livelihoods of a large number of people living in the hill districts and the woodlands of greater Sylhet depend on forests. However, the mangrove forest of Sundarbans plays the most dominant role when it comes to the sustenance of people living near it. The large forests being strictly protected areas, are yet to be plagued by wholesale illegal logging. But powerful racketeers involved in forest wood trade seem too invincible. They are found to be operative in one or another loosely guarded area of the Sundarbans.
Tree felling is not a crime in itself. But the act turns illegal if it flouts the prescribed rules. Trees in a forest or reserved area can be felled on meeting certain criteria. Trees are considered mature enough for felling after they reach a certain age. Besides, reforestation must continue alongside the clearing of woodlands. What's most alarming is felling of trees affects people's livelihoods and robs forests of their pristine beauty. And using the logs in polluter brick kilns spawns a double whammy.