Demand for New Forest Law Ensuring Accountability of Forest Department
By Sadman Sad
Demands have been made to enact new forest laws to protect the rights of forest-dependent ethnic minorities and ensure the forest department’s accountability.
Apart from this, the forest dwellers’ views and opinions have also been given importance in the laws and policies related to forests.
The speakers made the demand at a virtual national meeting titled ‘Citizens Opinion on Draft Forest Act 2019’.
The meeting was jointly organized by the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) on Saturday (September 19, 2020) morning.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive of BELA, presented an article on the draft Forest Act prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change.
She said the draft law is not new. Here the sections of the Forest Act of 1928 have been made in Bengali. Although the draft speaks of epoch-making, it does not add any new epoch-making elements but instead adds some shallow proposals in some instances.
Rizwana Hasan said the existing legal framework needs to be changed in forest management to ensure forest-dependent participation and partnership.
Before declaring a protected forest or reserve forest, the six types of forest dwellers’ rights must have complied.
Raja Debashish Roy, the head of Chakma Circle, gave another presentation emphasizing the issues of Chattogram Hill Tracts. He said there is no definition of ‘forest’ in the current forest law.
In the proposed report, any land declared by the government as ‘forest’ will be considered as ‘forest,’ which is not acceptable in any way. And if that is the case, only the signboard- attached forests can be identified.
Referring to the long-time social deforestation that the hill tribes had rejected long ago, Debashish Roy said that the provisions proposed in the draft law for Jum cultivation conflicted with the necessary conditions and spirit of the Hill Tracts Agreement.
He demanded amendment of the Forest Transit Rules in the CHT based on forest policy and other policies and in consultation with the residents.
Gautam Deva, the convener of the Chattogram Hill Tracts Citizens Committee, said the draft forest law did not consider the interests of forest-related people.
He said that if any law is passed for the hills of Chattogram Hill Tracts, it should be done based on the regional council’s opinion. But it is not done.
“We, the Garo ethnic, have been living here and protecting the forest since long before the forest law was enacted,” said Theophil Nkarek, Director of the Karitas Development Institute (CDI).
The forest department has been up for their eviction. They are being harassed with 10 to 11 false cases in each of the forest dwellers’ name.
Rabindranath Saran, President of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples, said about the forests of the entire plains, including North Bengal, that the forests are no longer all destroyed and desolate. Now there are treeless forest areas. As a result, the small ethnic groups in the region live in dire straits.
Sanjeev Drong, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Forum, said people of small ethnic groups live in different parts of the country, including Sylhet, Mymensingh, and Tangail.
Such instruction should be given immediately to the Forest Department from the highest level of government so that no attempt is made to evict them from there.
ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda presided over the function. Speakers were Sudatta Bikash Tanchangya, Shah-i-Mobin Jinnah, Swapan Kumar Guha, Shafiqul Islam, Bichitra Turkey, and others.