Forests, Bio-diversity and Adibashi Rights


Facts remaining Forests, Bio-diversity and Adibashi Rights

  • Bangladesh is losing her forests at an alarming rate, and corrupt forest department officials played a major role in degrading and destroying the forests;
  • The forest cover of Bangladesh has fallen from above 20 percent to only about 6 percent of the area, when the recommended percentage is 25;
  • Degradation of forests is going hand-in-hand with violation and constriction of the rights of the Adibashi peoples living in those forests;
  • Environment of the plain land Adibashi peoples is also threatened;
  • Adibashi people need constitutional recognition as separate ethnic entities;
  • Ill treatment meted out to the hilly people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the process of construction of the Kaptai hydroelectric project lies at the root of the subsequent ethnic strife and conflict that developed in the area;
  • The policy of settling Bangalee people in Chittagong Hill Tracts by displacing the hilly people has aggravated the conflict, and this settlement policy has also been a major cause of degradation of the forests, because Bangalee settlers often clear cut forests to introduce agriculture that is inappropriate for forests and hills;
  • Adibashi people generally have a communalistic land system that is very different from the individualistic land system of the mainstream Bangalee people;
  • 1997 Peace Treaty was a good step forward in resolving the conflict in CHT, but unfortunately this Treaty still remains to be fully implemented, and meanwhile vested quarters are trying to nullify the Treaty making use of the absence of recognition of Adibashi people as separate ethnic group in Bangladesh constitution;
  • Illegal tree cutting by tea estate owners and other vested quarters in hilly areas of Sylhet are disrupting the life and livelihood of the Adibashi people of the area;
  • Various government projects, such as a of rubber plantation, tobacco cultivation, etc, have contributed to the degradation of the country’s forests;
  • Clear cutting of forests to grow plantation crops has led to loss of top soil, increase in sediment choking neighboring rivers and streams, and dangerous landslides, all showing that the immediate gains from plantation crop are often outweighed by the long run costs of hill denouement and loss of forests;
  • Many government projects, such as construction of Eco Park, have led to destruction of forests, rather than their preservation and growth;
  • Modhupur forests are almost on the verge of extinction, creating a crisis for the life and livelihood for the Munda and other Adibashi people living in this region;
  • The forests of Bhawal Garh are under serious threat due to hundreds of industrial enterprises that have been allowed to be set up, that are now spilling solid, liquid, and gaseous waste in this area;
  • The Sundarbans are a unique national treasure that needs to be tended and preserved;
  • The Sundarbans are not only a source of many valuable economic inputs and a reservoir of immense bio-diversity, being in particular the habitat of the Royal Bengal Tigers and the spotted deers, but that it also serves as a invaluable shield against hurricanes and tidal bores, as the recent experience of hurricane Sidr showed so clearly;
  • The Sundarbans now face multiple threats, including that of encroachment, illegal and excessive timber extraction, illegal poaching, aggression from shrimp cultivation, and various ill conceived forest development projects;
  • Illegal hill cutting has become a widespread phenomenon, particularly in various parts of the greater Chittagong district, including Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf;
  • In the name of social forestation and fast tree growth, various past governments of Bangladesh have promoted plantation of foreign tree species, such as eucalyptus, acasia, etc., which are however very disruptive and destructive to the local ecology, flora, and fauna;
  • Bangladesh has a huge potential for homestead and social forestry,
  • The importance of involvement of local communities in forest management is very important.

Recommended regarding forests, bio-diversities and Adibashi issues

  1. Bangladesh takes urgent steps to stop the current process of degradation and destruction of forests and vigorously pursue the goal of achieving a forest cover of 25 percent of the land area;
  2. Bangladesh amends its constitution to recognize Adibashi peoples as ethnically distinct from the majority Bangalees, with their distinct land and administrative system, language, and culture, and that Bangladesh state takes on the obligation to help Adibashi people preserve their distinct material and spiritual culture;
  3. Bangladesh recognizes the vital link between preservation of forests and preservation of Adibashi rights and makes active use of this link to restore and enhance the country’s forests;
  4. Bangladesh implements the 1997 Peace Treaty fully and takes additional measures towards a comprehensive and lasting resolution of the ethnic conflict in CHT region, including an end to the policy of settling of Bangalees in CHT and considering resettlement of those already settled to new lands that are emerging in the coastal areas of the country;
  5. Bangladesh restrains from clear cutting of hills to promote cultivation of plantation crops, and instead promotes sustainable extraction of forest resources;
  6. Bangladesh stops illegal felling of trees, particularly in areas where the trees are vital for the life and livelihood for Adibashi and other local people;
  7. Bangladesh stops giving permission to set up industries in Bhawal Garh and other forests and takes step to relocate the ones that have already been set up;
  8. Bangladesh stops the process of extinction of the Modhupur forest and restores this forest to its full original extent, and reestablishes the traditional and customary rights of the Adibashi people living in this forest;
  9. Bangladesh stops all forest disrupting projects, such as construction of Eco Parks, in particular the one in Modhupur forest, that is one of the main reason for degradation of what remains of this forest;
  10. Bangladesh takes active measures against all illegal hill cutting and metes out exemplary punishment to those responsible, including government officials involved;
  11. Bangladesh promotes homestead and social forestry, making particular use of roads, highways, river embankments, and coastal polders, where a green belt may be created to serve as a protection against hurricanes and tidal bores;
  12. In promoting homestead and social forestry Bangladesh depends only on indigenous tree species, and stops any further spread of alien tree species, taking measures to remove the ones that have so far been planted;
  13. Bangladesh takes particular care of the Sundarbans, stopping encroachment, illegal timber and other resource extraction, poaching, conversion into shrimp farms, and restoring it to its original borders;
  14. To relieve pressure on forests arising from the need for firewood, Bangladesh makes modern energy sources available to all people and everywhere in the country, and ensures, in particular, the switch of all brick kilns from firewood to modern fuels, while at the same time raising the efficiency of utilization of fuel by them;
  15. In preserving and tending forests, emphasis is given on community participation, including participation of the Adibashi people living in the area; in particular, the landless and the destitute may be enlisted in tending social forests in return for some of the benefits to be obtained from them.