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‘Save CHT forest, stop evicting hill people’

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Staff Correspondent

Environmentalists yesterday called on the government to stop the encroachment of forest land in the name of industrialisation.

They during a press conference yesterday also demanded that the indigenous people’s land rights be established through an effective land commission in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and the proper implementation of the CHT peace treaty.

Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) organised the conference styled “Forests endangered, indigenous people tortured in the name of development” at Dhaka Reporters Unity to describe the current situation of the forests in danger.

Speaking at the conference, Bapa President Prof Muzaffer Ahmad said forests are our national assets and the indigenous people have been conserving the forests for decades but these forests are now on the verge of destruction.

He also said the forests and rivers of the country are being ruined in the name of industrialisation. This is polluting the environment and causing severe natural disasters.

“Development should be human and environment friendly but some non-government and business organisations ignoring facts are destroying our common properties and are also evicting indigenous people from their lands,” he said.

The lone mangrove forest of the country–the Sundarbans–is being demolished to feed newspaper and hardboard factories in Khulna, he said adding that lands are being taken over by expanding industries and cultivable lands in the CHT area are losing fertility due to the effluents discharged by industries.

“We are not against industrialisation but we do not want development that destroys our forests, rivers and puts the indigenous people at risk,” he said, adding, “Development is for the peopleā€¦ not for merely development and we should not go for anything that goes against the greater interest of the ethnic people.”

Prof Muzaffer also said the ownership of lands should be specified and the rights of the ethnic communities should be protected.

He stressed the importance of planting local species of tress instead of opting for alien species to save the biodiversity of the country.

“The environment will be damaged and natural disasters will be more destructive if we do not take steps to save our forests and rivers,” he added.

In the keynote paper presented at the conference, Joint Secretary of Bapa Sharif Jamil said taking advantage of the lack of proper development plans and their implementation, a vested quarter is destroying the forests in the name of development.

He said about 3,500 industries have so far been built illegally grabbing around 618 acres of land of Bhawal National Park, declared in 1982. He said the industries are polluting the environment and harming the biodiversity of the forest.

He demanded the industries and structures be removed from the forest.

He gave an overview of the present condition of forests in Khagrachhari, Jaflang, Lawachhara and Bandarban.

Iqbal Habib, member-secretary of Bapa, called on the government to take measure for environment-friendly industrialisation.

Bapa Joint Secretary Zakir Hossain and indigenous leader Arun Kumar Tripura also spoke at the conference.

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