Insatiable greed wipes out a reserved forest
Not a single tree seen in 21-year-old woodland; rampant logging allowed for bribe
Home to 12 ethnic groups as diverse as their landscape Parbattya Chhattagram, also known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts, lies along the border with India and Myanmar. The 25-year bitter fight over land and resource management issues left most of its 1.3 million people stranded in poverty and in dire need of development opportunities.
Jugalchhari Reserved Forest in the hill district of Khagrachhari does not exist anymore because of mismanagement and misdeeds of forest department officials, sources said. As a result the government lost a large sum of investment and at least 10 types of wild lives and 25 kinds of birds lost their safe habitat, environmentalists said adding that the large reserved forest could have been a wonderful natural habitat for wild lives.
A total of 2,415 acres of the reserved forest, which was supposed to grow into a lush habitat for many kinds of wild lives in the last 21 years since 1984, is now totally destroyed due to rampant illegal felling of trees by loggers under the safe shelter of the officials of Divisional Forest Office (DFO) and Panchhari Range Office. Local forest officials of all levels directly helped the loggers to plunder the forest in exchange for hefty sums of bribes, making sure that they would not go out into the forest for routine inspections and monitoring, but they did not hesitate to misappropriate allocated government fund for the purpose, sources said.
A total of 2,565.50 acres of land of the same mouza were also brought under Jugalchhari forest for cultivating a variety of fruits, 800 acres of those were brought under the forest in 1984, 180 acres in 1997, 550 acres in 1985, 550 acres in 1993, and 555 acres in 1994. According to a statement of the DFO, a total of 30,89,130 segun saplings and a large variety of fruit trees were planted in the forest in the last 21 years. But during a recent visit to where the forest once was, The Daily Star correspondent could not find a single tree of any kind there.
According to Mongshi Marma, the man who coordinated the process of setting up the now vanished Jugalchhari Reserved Forest and its fruit orchards, the government spent more than Tk 12 crore for planting, preserving, nurturing and monitoring the trees, and it also had a target of earning more than Tk 100 crore after 20 years of its establishment. But after 21 years now the government still could not earn a single taka as the fruit orchards and the forest itself do not exist any more, Mongshi said.
Pradip Chowdhury, programme coordinator of the Centre for Sustainable Development (CFSD), said due to a lack of proper management many wild lives lost their habitat threatening the environment. "We want a proper investigation of the wholesale plunder of the forest, which made it extinct," he said. "
All forest officials concerned are responsible for the complete destruction of the reserved forest", said former chairman of Bhaibonchhara union parishad Kazi Shamsul Islam. Minati Bala Tripura, 33, an indigenous woman who lives near where the forest once was, said the forest officials concerned directly helped loggers to cut down the trees.
But, Divisional Forest Officer Shah-e-Alam said after the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord had been signed the indigenous communities cut down the trees of the forest illegally to sell the logs. When asked why he did not take any action against the alleged crime, he said, "I was not here at that time. Officials who were here at that time should have taken actions." Interestingly enough the same office misappropriated more than Tk 3 crore of government fund in the name of rehabilitating landless indigenous people in Jugalchhari Reserved Forest, sources said. According to the DFO office, it settled 117 families in the forest in the last 20 years to look after the forest, but during a recent visit there this correspondent found only five families there.
A publication of DFO claimed that the government spent over Tk 1.5 crore for settling the families, each of which received more than Tk 1 lakh and five acres of land. But, Sneha Kumar Tripura, 53, a settler in the forest said they did not get any money from the forest department although they received some land.
Confronted with the allegation, the divisional forest officer said most of the settlers left the forest soon after getting the money.
A total of 288 cases were filed against loggers in recent years, sources confirmed.
But, the forest officials would drop the cases in exchange for bribes of as much as Tk 50,000 to Tk 70,000 per case. For issuing permits allowing sales of fruits from the orchards, the officials would take bribes ranging from Tk 10,000 to more than Tk 50,000 depending on the seniority of the official who was being bribed.
When asked about the allegations, Sadar Assistant Commissioner (Land) Rubaiat-e-Ashik said he heard that some of his staff are involved in corruption but he himself never has been. The divisional forest officer however replied to the same query with a categorical denial of any kind of involvement of any of his staff in such corrupt practices. A part of Jugalchhari Reserved Forest in Khagrachhari hill district left without trees due to plunder by a section of forest officials for long. (Jasim Majumder, Khagrachhari June 5, 2007).
Cultivation of vegetables and spices on Khagrachhari hill slopes causes massive soil erosion, destroys bio-diversity
Vegetable growers in the district are happy with high prices of their produce. They benefit, but at the cost of ecology.
They choose hill slopes for growing summer vegetable in rainy season. They clear forests and shrubs and till the lands, which causes massive soil erosion, thereby destroying the natural conditions of hills.
Besides change in the ecology, destruction of forests and soil erosion may cause catastrophe like massive landslides, officials of Agriculture Extension Department (AED) said. Landslides triggered by heavy rains killed so many people in Chittagong during the current rainy season, they said. AED officials in Manikchhari said vegetable cultivation on hill slopes is increasing in the upazila as farmers are earning good profit from it. Vegetables produced in Manikchhari upazila are also sent to other district and exported, they said.
They said vegetables and spices brought hefty gains for both Bangalee and indigenous farmers this year because of high prices of the items. This will expand their cultivation in the hill slopes, the officials said. This correspondent visited at 10 villages in Manikchhari and Dudukchhari upazilas and talked to farmers. They said this year, vegetable prices were more than double the prices of previous years.
According to Manikchhari AED officials, at least 15,000 farmers are involved in vegetable cultivation in the upazila, which benefit around 30,000 people directly or indirectly. Vegetable cultivation on hill slopes in the upazila covered at least 2451 hectares in Manikchhari upazila alone, the officials said.
Farmer Abdul Karim in Gachchhabil village said, he got very good prices for vegetables this year due to flood. But last year, most of the vegetables he produced perished due to transportation problem and lack of storage facilities, he said. Hasan Mia of remote Hathimura village said good prices this year have become a boost for many in his village, who are planning to expand vegetable cultivation.
This correspondent asked the farmers whether they are aware of the problem that may be caused by the massive soil erosion in hills. They said they are not aware of the it. Jum cultivation in eight upazilas in Khagrachhari, mainly by indigenous people by clearing forests, also damages bio-diversity and destroys sanctuaries of birds and animals.
AED sources said, due to favorable weather, indigenous farmers brought 5411.77 acres of lands on hill slopes in the district under jum cultivation in the current season, according to Babatosh Chakrabarti, Sub Assistant Agriculture Officer (SAAO) of District AED.
Of the total lands, 753.35 acres were brought under jum cultivation in Khagrachhari, 839.8 in Panchhari, 864.5 in Dighinala, 1111.5 in Mohalchhari, 494 in Matiranga upazila, 271.7 in Ramghor, 172.9 in Manikchhari and 889.2 acres in Laxmichhari upazila, he said. Jum farnmers produced 2839 tonnes of rice and vegetables in the current season.
Another SAAO, Pranab Barua, said jum cultivation washes away the micronutrients of soil which caused massive soil erosion. He claimed that the unprecedented floods in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) this year was caused mainly due to soil erosion. Pradip Chowdhury, Programme Supervisor of Center for Sustainable Development (CFSD), said Jumm cultivation is profitable for farmers but it is responsible for extinction of wildlife. The government should take note of the situation and find out alternatives to avoid natural disaster, he said.
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Shah-E-Alam said most of the unclassified forests were wiped out due to jum cultivation. Such damage to bio-diversity may bring natural disaster in the region some day, he said. Manikchhari Upazila Agriculture Officer Mohammad Zahedul Islam said besides soil erosion, vegetable and spices cultivation need chemical fertilizer and insecticide, which also damage the environment.
He said they are trying to make farmers aware of the problem. Among all crops, cultivation of aram in hill slopes is very much destructive though it benefits farmers, he said. Deputy Director (DD) of Khagrachhari DAE T M Monjurul Islam said farmers are getting bumper yields and good prices due to soil fertility and favorable weather condition. But this may bring a disaster in the long run, he added.
Farmers should cultivate lands in a way that there is least soil erosion. Vegetable cultivation can not be stopped. He said the AED will launch an awareness campaign to make farmers cautious about the problem. Policy makers at higher level should take note of the problem and take up long term programmes to evolve alternatives, he said (Jashim Majumder, Khagrachhari , Daily Star, October 8, 2007).
Indigenous People of Bangladesh : Magh
Magh, a major tribe of Bangladesh comprising marmas of the hills and rakhains of the plains. Ethnically, Maghs are Mongoloid and culturally, they are close to the population of Myanmar. The Marma community is headed by two chiefs (Raja): the Bohmoung and the Mong. The former resides at bandarban, while the latter at ramgarh (khagrachhari). Maghs are one of the major Buddhist groups of the Arakanese stock.
During the Arakanese rule (1459-1666), there might have developed some settlements in south and southeastern parts of Bengal (present Bangladesh), but these are not historically traceable. The main Magh settlements in Bangladesh grew up with the fall of the independent kingdom of arakan to Burma in 1784. After the annexation, King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of Burma let loose a reign of terror. This resulted in the migration of two-thirds of its population to southeastern part of Bengal. The British government took measures for their rehabilitation. Captain H Cox, a former British navy officer in Burma, was appointed as the superintendent of the Magh settlements. cox's bazar, now a sea resort of Bangladesh, was named after him.
The grant of asylum and the depredations of Maghs resulted in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-25, in which Burma was defeated and Arakan and Tenassarim were annexed to the British dominion by the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. As a result, the refugees from Arakan got a permanent foothold in the southern areas of chittagong district. The second wave of Magh migration started from Arakan through the Matamuhuri Valley and in course of time, they spread over Bandarban. Maghs call this area Bohmoung Thoung ie, the residence of the Bohmoung chief. The third group entered Khagrachhari from sitakunda region and built up their permanent abode at Ramgarh. They claim to be known as Plaung Tha and their residence as Plaung Thoung meaning the abode of the Plaung Thoung clan. The fourth group crossing the bay of bengal reached southern part of Greater patuakhali (now divided into two districts, Patuakhali and barguna) and settled down there. Rangabali, Bara Baizdiya and Aila were the principal Magh settlements. With the growth of population they spread over throughout the region. Maghs call this tract as Awazonway, meaning offshore island. In 1991, the total number of Maghs in Bangladesh was about one hundred sixty thousand.
Chakma[ccp] 312,207 in Bangladesh (2000 WCD). Population total all countries: 612,207. Southeast, Chittagong Hills area, and Chittagong City. Also spoken in India. Alternate names: Takam. Dialects: 6 dialects. Chakma of India understood with difficulty. Classification: Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Eastern zone, Bengali-Assamese
Mizo[lus] 1,041 in Bangladesh (1981 census). Mizo Hills, Chittagong, Sylhet. Alternate names: Lusai, Lushai, Lushei, Sailau, Hualngo, Whelngo, Lei. Dialects: Ralte, Dulien, Ngente, Mizo, Le. Classification: Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Kuki-Chin-Naga, Kuki-Chin, Central
Mru [mro]80,000 in Bangladesh (2002 SIL). Population total all countries: 81,231. Southeastern, Chittagong Hills; 200 villages. Also spoken in India. Alternate names: Murung, Mrung, Maru, Niopreng. Dialects: Lexical similarity 13% with Mro Chin. Classification: Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Mru
Mundari [muw] Alternate names: Munda, Mandari, Munari, Horo, Mondari, Colh. Dialects: Hasada', Latar, Naguri, Kera'. Classification: Austro-Asiatic, Munda, North Munda, Kherwari, Mundari
Riang [ria] 1,011 in Bangladesh (2000). Chittagong Hills. Alternate names: Reang, Kau Bru. Classification: Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Jingpho-Konyak-Bodo, Konyak-Bodo-Garo, Bodo-Garo, Bodo
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