Plunder of forest resources unabated in Rangamati, Bangladesh

Vanishing greenery: Barren tract of land in the T&T area at Ukhia thana in Cox's Bazar bears an eloquent testimony to indiscriminate logging. With blessing from local administration high-ups, political leaders and forest officials, unscrupulous timber traders continue to chop down trees, wreaking havoc on eco-balance

Plunder of forest resources in Rangamati continues unabated, making the government's costly afforestation efforts futile.

Illegal extraction of timber and firewood has virtually made forest resources limited to only a few 'primary forests' and 'forest stands' of the Department of Forestry (DOF) and some privately owned hills, sources concerned said. Despite a ban on collection of timber from reserved forests till 2005, illegal extraction through 'jote permit' or 'free permit' is continuing due to alleged corruption by a section of DOF officials, they said.

This has made the rate of felling threes more than the rate of planting, causing gradual depletion of valuable timber resources and rise in government's expenditure

Legal extraction of forest resources has also fallen drastically. Extraction of timber and firewood was 2.7 lakh cft (cubic feet) and 8.3 lakh cft respectively in 1999-2000 financial year against 16.9 lakh cft and 82 lakh cft in FY 1983-84, according to figures available from the DOF

But this did not raise the number of standing trees, the sources told this correspondent during a recent visit to some forest areas.

In this regard, the sources quoted the latest ADB (Asian Development Bank) report which said the DOF "has failed in its role despite its full control over forest resources in the CHT (Chittagong Hill Tracts)" It is a common allegation everywhere in Rangamati that illegal felling and theft of timber from reserve forests are carried out through 'jote permit' due to corruption by a section of DOF officials and law enforcers, they said.

"Moreover, it is an open secret that the timber extracted is at least two to four times the quantity allowed in a jote permit," said a timber trader at Rangamati

The DOF officials are the "sole custodians of the reserve forests" and enjoy all power in issuing permits for collection of timber and transport passes (TPs) for carrying those out of the district

But the officials and law enforcers exercise their power not for protecting the forest resources but for hefty gains from poachers, the sources alleged.

When asked, a forest official admitted that more trees than allowed in a 'jote permit' are extracted, but he defended this saying that the quantity may increase because of growth of trees between the 'stand marking' and collection period.

A consignment of timber to be loaded in a truck has to go through a dozen formalities for checking and re-checking. These are 'stand marking' (marking of standing trees to be felled), 'committee approval', permission from DFO, 'pass marking', issuance of D-form, stock checking, station checking and load checking.

A leader of a local timber merchants association said, "It is quite impossible to move a single piece of timber beyond the knowledge of DOF men. They have to be paid around Tk 50,000 for a jote permit," he said. After all these checking and re-checking, there is another hurdle. Before taking a timber-loaded truck out of Rangamati, a 'transport permit' (TP) is needed and load-checking is done, which cost around Tk 8,000, he said.

On way to Chittagong, a truck has to come across 6-7 DOF and police check posts at Bhedbhedi, Ghagra, Kaukhali, Ranirhat, Rauzan, Hathazari and Panchlaish. A safe passage is availed at the cost of another Tk 30-40 thousand per truck, the sources said.

While carrying a consignment through water way, it is brought to Kaptai Lake through the Karnaphuli and some other small rivers (known as Chharas). Down the rivers to Kaptai Lake, 4-5 check posts have to be crossed. On the way, more illegally extracted timbers are added to the consignment in connivance with DOF men. The timbers are then carried to Chittagong through the Chittagong-Kaptai road.

Source: Abdullah-Al Mahmud, from Rangamati ,The Daily Star, 29. 05. 01

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