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Major reforms in forest laws on the cards

Published : 24 Apr 2023 09:47 PM | Updated : 24 Apr 2023 09:47 PM

The government is moving forward to bring drastic changes in laws, rules and regulations related to forests to protect dwindling forests in Bangladesh.  As part of the move, the government has taken initiative to pass two new laws that will reshuffle rules and regulations on how forest resources are used and conserved properly.

The titles of the two new laws are- ‘The Forest Act, 2023’ and ‘The Forest Conservation Act, 2023’. The proposed two new laws will likely be placed in the next session of Parliament starting in June, according to an official of the Forest Department. Md. Amir Hosain Chowdhury, chief conservator of forests said that after enactment of the two new laws, it will play a vital role in protecting and preserving forests, trees and biodiversity in the country. It will bring a drastic change in the forest sector, he added. 

The Forest Bill, 2023 will replace the Forest Act, 1927. The hundred-year old law that was enacted during the British period mainly treats the country’s forests as a source of revenue. Since the British period, the Forest Department has been serving mainly to mobilise revenue for the government.

The existing forest law allows the Forest Department to auction timber and permit extraction of fish, fruits, honey, timber from the Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world which is one of the last strongholds of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

Every year, the government sets specific targets for the Forest Department to generate revenue. The officials of the sector are usually tasked to generate the revenue.

However, the proposed Forest Act, 2023 will also highlight the issue so that the officials of the Forest Department will also work to conserve forests. After enactment of the fresh law, the government will shift focus from revenue generation to forest conservation.

On the other hand, the Forest Conservation Act, 2023 has been designed aiming to build forest carbon stock by raising plantations and protecting trees. 

Nargis Sultana, an official of the Forest Department told Bangladesh Post that after enactment of the ‘Forest Conservation Act, 2023’, the unnecessary cutting of trees even outside forests will be banned. 

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is looking after the matter. An official of the ministry said that the important side of the proposed new laws is that the forest officials will no longer be under pressure from the government to think of generating revenues from the forest. 

Muhammad AnowarulHoque, secretary general at Save Our Sea said that Bangladesh is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest. The country has a number of reserved forests and numerous forests which are being affected for various reasons. However, roads, railways and power lines are being constructed through reserved forests due to loopholes in laws and policies. Against this backdrop, the two proposed new laws will help conserve the dwindling forest if they are applied properly, he added. 

Talking to Bangladesh Post on Sunday (April 24), the environmentalist further said that it is a good idea that instead of exploiting forest resources, the officials of the forest sector will work to protect the fast-depleting green cover in the country with a growing population and growing economic activity in forests. 

In the current situation, two different laws are needed to protect the forests, trees and green environment of Bangladesh. Alongside the revenue income, the authorities concerned must give priority to conserve the forests, environment and biodiversity. 

Muhammad AnowarulHoque of Save Our Sea said that Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 is not sufficient to save the country’s dwindling forests. Different and updated laws are needed to protect the forests. 

It is known that the proposed Forest Act, 2023 would authorise the forest officials to conserve the forest and protect biodiversity as declared by the government. On the other hand, the proposed Forest Conservation Act, 2023 would protect trees and greenery outside the forest land.

Since the reign of the Mughal empire, Bangladesh has been losing forest cover. During the British era, the railway network was built after cutting numerous trees indiscriminately. 

However, the British government enacted the first forest law in 1865, a year after the creation of the Forest Department, in order to protect the forests. In 1878, they enacted a comprehensive Indian Forest Act that contained the provision of revenue generation from the forests.

Later, the colonial government enacted the existing Forest Act, 1927. The new law will replace the old law.  

The proposed two laws have some good provisions to protect forests, environment and greenery.