Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh By Shishir Reza


Forested land areas have become vulnerable in Bangladesh. A growing population needs more agricultural, commercial and habitable land. Consequently, vast areas of forests are completely destroyed as civilization encroaches upon wilderness. Out of 46,000 acres in Madhupur Sal forest, 7,800 acres have been given out to Commercial plantation, 25,000 acres has given into illegal possession. At hilly forest area, tobacco farming is increasing rather than the mainstream food. About 10 national and international companies are involved in tobacco farming. In 2000, about 300 hectares land was used which has increased 4232 hectares in 2010. Now the farming area is about 28,000 hectares. On the other hand, shrimp farming has increased the rate of land encroachment more than double from 45,596 hectares in 2000 to 96,283 hectares in 2010 at Mangrove forest area. Commercial plantation and illegal possession in Sal forest and inappropriate jhumming, illegal logging, stone exploitation, brick fields, Bengali expansionism in Hill forest as well as apiculture, shrimp by catching and animals hunting in Mangrove forest area – all forms are raising a concern about conservation of forest biodiversity. In resulting, land encroachment by local elites or corporate grabbers in the name of agricultural development and industrialization, affects the totality of genetic potential, species and ecosystem stability, degrades the humus and topsoil, changes the food chain, decreases the capability of hydrological cycles and circulation of nutrients as well as the aesthetic value of forest in Bangladesh.

1. Setting the Scene
Bangladesh is a country of lot of possibilities due to her environmental, natural and human resources. She is already graduated from least developed countries (LDC’s) and dreaming for middle income country by the year of 2021. Despite these successes, more than 25 million people still live in poverty. Climate change is a worldwide menace severely affects the country’s ability to achieve the high rates of economic growth needed to sustain these reduction indicators in poverty. However, Bangladesh government has spent 15 billion USD during the last three decades to make the country climate resilient and less vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2014, the main slogan of environment day is “forest, nature at your service”. It was very logical and contemporary item in order to manage the global forest and environment as well as aware the people. In general, forest provides multiple benefits to environment, people and animals. At day time tree generates oxygen and stores carbon dioxide which helps to clean air. She retains wildlife and offers food and protection to them; offers privacy and reduces light reflection and helps in controlling the level of floods. Forest provides different kinds of wood which are used for different purposes like making of furniture, paper and pencils and so on. It helps in giving the direction of wind and its speed and helps in keeping environment healthy and beautiful. Also, provides us oxygen and clean air by taking carbon dioxide. The roots of the plant help to maintain the water level. The roots of the tree retain soil. Forest helps in bringing sufficient rainfall on earth. So forests are essential to save life of people as well as floral and faunal composition. It is true that forest helps us in a different ways but what about the management criteria at developing countries particularly in Bangladesh while land encroachment is a big challenge to conserve forest resources. The culture of land grabbing in forest area affects the wildlife security in Bangladesh.

Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh  By Shishir Reza

2.1 Sundarban Mangrove Forest: Status of Biodiversity
Bangladesh is lucky as Sundarban is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It exemplifies the ecological processes of monsoon rain flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonization. The area has a wide range of rare fauna, including the Bengal tiger, estuarine crocodile and many reptiles and birds. In 1992, The Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The forest extends over some 200 islands, separated by 15 major distributaries rivers flowing north-south, and 400 interconnected tidal estuaries, creeks and canals. Mangrove swamp forest extends over half of the Sundarbans, the rest being largely brackish and salt water. The dominant species are sundari , gewa, goran and keora. The Sundarbans support one of the subcontinent’s largest populations of tiger, the Bengal tiger Panthera tigris, known for its swimming and man-eating. Several of the larger animal species are now locally extinct due to agricultural reclamation and the high level of soil salinity. They include Javan rhinoceros, Rhinoceros sondaicus, Indian rhinoceros, Rhinoceros unicornis, Indian water buffalo, swamp deer, Indian Muntiacus muntjak, Gaur, Hog deer, Gharial, Mugger and soft-shell turtle. Apart from that, a total of 315 bird species has been recorded, of which 84 are migratory including about 95 species of waterfowl, 38 species of raptors and two pheasants, 53 reptile species and 8 amphibians. The 18 recorded species of snake include king cobra Ophiophagus Hannah and spectacled cobra Naja Naja, Asiatic rock python Python molurus, three vipers and six sea-snakes.

2.2 Conservation and Management of Sundarban
A wildlife conservation plan prepared under the joint sponsorship of the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. National Zoological Park emphasized management of the tiger and other wildlife as an integral part of sustainable forest and coastal management for both timber and the needs of the local population. But the forest is now showing signs of degradation. Well supported missions in the recent past have also thoroughly inventoried data on the forest as a basis for integrating the conservation of wildlife with profitable exploitation of timber, forest products and fisheries. An Integrated Sundarbans Management Plan has been prepared under the Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Project funded by the Asian Development Bank. Three field stations have been established in Sundarbans West. There are no recognized local rights within the reserved forest. Entry and collection of forest produce are by permits issued by the Forest Department which may also issue hunting licenses under the Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Amendment Act, 1974. Under the provision of this Act, activities prohibited within the wildlife sanctuaries, include residence, cultivation of land, damage to vegetation, hunting, introduction of domestic animals and setting of fires. Sometimes official story hides real story.

2.3 Management Constraints of Sundarban
Major anthropogenic disasters include over-exploitation of timber, of animals by poaching, of resources such as trawling for prawn seeds, irrigation and drainage canals, embankments for fisheries and shrimp ponds, and pollution from aquaculture, oil spills and dumped wastes. Some agricultural encroachment has already occurred on the eastern and western boundaries and, with increasing population pressure in surrounding settled areas, could become serious unless checked. 18,200 hectares of the Chokoria Sundarbans was completely destroyed in recent years by shrimp farming. Fishermen’s camps are a major source of disturbance. Extensive illegal hunting and trapping is practiced not only by fishermen and woodcutters but also reportedly by naval and military personnel from Hiron Point in the South Wildlife Sanctuary. A total of 118 offences were recorded and over 3,300m of deer nets were removed three decades ago. The capture of adult marine turtles and river terrapin for food is a potentially serious problem. Smugglers moving to and from India with contraband goods also use the area. The reduction in fresh water flow due to upstream water diversion, the construction of dykes combined with the pollution from the industries and the ports of Khulna and Mongla have greatly affected the plant and fish population of Sundarbans.

Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh  By Shishir Reza

3.1 Madhupur Sal Forest: Status of Biodiversity
Sal forest is also called deciduous forest due its characteristics. The location of such kind of forest is not only in Tangail but also Mymensingh, Comilla, Gazipur etc. This forest is a combination of different plants and animals. We know forest contributes two percent to the Gross Domestic Product of Bangladesh, where sal forest plays the vital role. Actually, this forest is present in low land and flood plain based area. In our country, only this forest contains pure Sal (Shoria robusta) tree. Besides, this forest contains a huge variety of floral composition, different type of mammals, reptiles, avis and amphibians. It houses a total of 176 species of plants including 73 trees, 22 shrubs, 1 palm, 8 grasses, 27 climbers and 45 herbs. Besides, there are a number of exotic species planted in the national park area. Existing faunal composition includes 21 species of mammals, 140 species of birds and 29 reptiles in this park. In Bangladesh, there is a chronic trend of declining natural forest habitat and the rate of forest degradation has accelerated in the past 30 years. It is evident from the study that due to various factors like anthropogenic disturbances, political abusement, absence of proper rules and regulations, willingness of the authority, encroachment of forest by locals/local leaders, illegal cutting of Sal trees, agro-forestry, and lack of adequate budget are main constraints for managing Madhupur National Park.

3.2 Causes of Degradation of Madhupur Sal Forest
At present the forest faces a miserable condition. More and more land of the degraded forest is being used for commercial agricultural production. Presently, around 62 thousand hectares of land of Madhupur National Park have been used for banana cultivation. There were many reasons for depletion of the resources and in park management such as- i) anthropogenic disturbance, ii) climatologically change, iii) absence to proper rules and regulations, iv) absence adequate budget, v) human settlement, vi) agricultural activities, vii) cattle ranching, viii) fragmentation of forest land by road construction, ix) brick field and saw mills, x) activities of Garo tribal, xi) existing population pressure, xii) encroachment etc. According to the Forest Division of Tangail region, about half of its total area is occupied or encroached by the local people. Encroached forest area in various Ranges in Madhupur National Park.

Table 1:

Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh

3.3 Management Constraints of Madhupur Sal Forest
The main constraints for the management of Madhupur National Park which are – a) movements of indigenous peoples against the implementation of National Park principles, b) failure of law and enforcement to ban the Banana and Pineapple garden in forest, c) political influences for Banana and Pineapple gardening in forest, d) encroachment of forest and land by locals and local leaders, e) illegal cutting of Sal trees under political power, f) less or no security for the management people and the forest, g) misuse of politics to management people, h) less or no scope to implement the management strategy. Local people has been mentioned that forest management has caused deforestation through corruption of local elites, members of political parties and police department, non recognition of land right, corruption of administration, irresponsibility of Forest Department officials, discriminatory social system, agricultural practices, inappropriate Jhumming, over population, poverty and unemployment of indigenous peoples.

4. Evergreen Forest: Status of Biodiversity
Evergreen means the zone where the ever greenish trees are available. The location of evergreen forest is mainly Chittagong and Sylhet. Chittagong hill tracts are main zone of evergreen trees. The canopy or vast shade of green trees creates a sustainable ecosystem where different plants and animals live. Shil, koroi,bailam, chapalish are the main trees in this region besides wild cats, snakes, different birds and monkeys are present at this forest. The particular point is here about 40 classes of indigenous people live at the deep zone of this evergreen forest. It is known to all that Jhum cultivation is a system to cultivate hilly land cutting down or firing the existing trees. It is very common that, Jhum cultivation is inimical for hilly ecosystem. But the hilly people need to sustain compare with mainstream Bengali people. Different specialists have said development means destruction creation but we are now advanced generation think about the collective development which is a combination of environment, society and economy. On the other hand, different international companies are very eager to use land of hill in Bangladesh. They do not think about the environmental status or ecosystem at hilly region as well as the status the health of indigenous people. Different study implies diverse tobacco companies have extended their hand to cultivate the hilly land for high amount of tobacco production.

Table 2:

Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh

It is much unexpected. Basically the poor farmers or people are involved such kind of labor. It is also called poisonous labor. Tobacco cultivation is very inimical or harmful for land as it reduces the water holding capacity of soil, the fertility of soil, damages the soil structure and profile. A farmer can farm the land with tobacco continuously for 3 to 5 years. At that time farmer see that the tobacco production is high at hilly land but this culture permanently affects the production capacity of soil. As a result, tobacco farming land after 5 years, is not suitable for further food crops. So, it is matter of environmental economist that how to combine the production of soil without affecting their fertility at hilly region.

Other side – government of Bangladesh has enacted different laws and principles to combine development. But there is a question about the philosophy of policy formation and implementation system in Bangladesh. According to the forest policy 1994 – it is related to the forest management, wildlife and biodiversity conservation. It implies that the conservation and expansion of forest zones, conservation of wildlife and biodiversity and conservation of wetlands are recognized as priority area for collective action. However, encroachment of hilly land by looting class, illegal ways of cutting down hilly trees, illegal hunting of hilly animals, torture of hilly people by corporate grabbers or so called elites, so called fight between indigenous people and mainstream Bengalis and struggle of indigenous people at hilly forest area to access mainstream opportunity, all are disrupts the collective management of evergreen forest of Bangladesh.

Indigenous peoples are fighting for their marginality and the common property rights in forest. An indigenous person considers their forest and culture as like as mother. But the international or national rent-seekers, looting class, law abuser, and elite politician are very vigorous at hilly region. In general indigenous people are deprived to access basic food, land and habitation rights. On the other hand, our constitution implies, the owner of the state is only people. The state has said that she will not show any inequality, discrimination, disparity against humanity and general people. Is it not a game of unpeopling? The context of political economy is saying, such kind of discrimination or disparity is created by free-market economy where marginal people are powerless and they do not get any platform to show their problems. This is called relation between center-periphery relation where center is actively involved to exploit or dominate the people of periphery or make the people more marginal. It is a natural system of corporate capitalistic economy where it is occurred by the encroachment of land, wetland, and forest of general or indigenous people. We have seen there is interconnected relation between policy formulation and the benefit of indigenous people at forest area especially at Chittagong hill tracts. Consequently, constitutional value, fundamental rights of indigenous people, collective forest management with the assist of indigenous people, people’s participation of policy formation is under threat. Rather we have seen the bulky and vast hand of local elites, culture of rent-seeking, Dutch disease, encroachment of land, forest, habitation place by so called local land offices etc. This culture disrupts the biodiversity in forest, ecosystem status among forest area, food chain among different animals and plants, environmental management and development, on one side, in other side the looting class or rent seekers create the artificial syndicate within the forest area to make inequality, disparity, discrimination with local indigenous people. It is very shameful at civilized world. Day by day, poverty level at hilly forest area is increasing since the end of 1970 and 1980 due to the demographic engineering under the system of political engineering (Barkat, 2016). Basically two types of poverty they are facing at deep forest – absolute and hardcore poverty. Poverty forces the local people to create unfavorable condition at forest biodiversity. The poverty and landless rate of indigenous people, 2009 are given below:

During the last three decades, commercial cultivation is increasing instead of Jhum cultivation. Natural forest losses her life due to the tobacco and rubber cultivation. Nowadays it is increasing day by day at large rate which disrupts the ecosystem diversity as she losses her plants, animals and different birds at hilly forest region. As a result, free market economy which is not free actually, and their practicing culture of cultivation not only creates a segregated life for indigenous people but also degrades the hilly forest ecology ? which is not renewable.

Environmental Politics of Forest Biodiversity in Bangladesh  By Shishir Reza

5. The Culture of Rent Seeking and Environmental Action Plans in Bangladesh
Institutional and technical capacity is essential for the exploration and extraction of environmental resources. Various research studies have noted that the implementation of the natural resources exploration policy and the Environmental Protection Act have been bogged down due to some institutional and technical limitations. Various operational rules for effective implementation of the Policy and Act require complementary and detailed operational rules, many of which have not yet been formulated in Bangladesh. Lack of Inter-agency coordination is one of the major causes of poor and inefficient use of the existing policy outline and rules on environmental protection and natural resources management. The policies of the Bangladesh government have been developed mostly from a sector centered. Although the Environment Policy emphasizes on maintaining ecological balance and overall development through protection of the environment, ensuring environmentally sound development and sustainable use of natural resources but some other sector centered policies are not consistent to achieve these objectives. Polices are thus often criticized for their lack of directions for cooperation, coherence and coordination among the interested parties involved there in. The management responsibilities of different environmental components are divided into different sectors and ministries. This culture hinders smooth operation and execution of sustainable management regime.

In addition, lack of regulatory and institutional capacity is a common figure in Bangladesh. Institutional capacity for implementing the various action measures identified by the resources exploration policy is still weak. The Department of Environment and Forest faces similar weaknesses. They have a shortage of adequate and trained manpower. There is lack of an information management system supported by a strong data bank to back up planning, policies and monitoring activities. Department of Environment is a regulatory and enforcement department but it is highly centralized and lacks significant presence at regional and local level. Rent seekers have been created. It is also called Politician-Polluter nexus. Available evidences suggest that in most cases the environment polluters or corporate grabbers are very powerful both financially and politically. Rent seekers are looting class in Bangladesh. They are very full of zip in encroaching on others land and wetland – annihilate forest without considering the environment; build industries without considering local people; establish mobile phone towers without considering forest ecosystem. Their main intention is to increase profits and in doing so they destroy the environment and people’s live. A very interesting point is that those rent seekers maintain a channel of communication with the political government or there is an unholy nexus among a section of public bureaucracy, leading political elites and the corporate grabbers or polluters. The activity of rent seekers damages all kinds of national institutional and technical abilities as well as environmental security and natural resource exploration initiatives.

Fig: The Culture of Rent seeking in Bangladesh (Barkat, 2016)Fig: The Culture of Rent seeking in Bangladesh (Barkat, 2016)

Context mentions some policy and public activates damages sustainable development strategies in Bangladesh. About 190 different industries located 10km within sundarbans (New Age, 6 April, 2018). Huge amount of ash, particles, gas will affect the photosynthesis process, ecological status and food chain in the largest mangrove forest. Different rivers would be exaggerated due to the use of water and produced synthetic material from power plant. Sundarban is a lung of Bangladesh and thousands of people protect their lives during natural disasters as it acts as a wall against the storm. Sundarban consists of three sanctuaries – east, west and south sanctuary. Context implies a great intellectual exercise is imperative to deal with initial impact assessment and environmental impact assessment.

6. Conclusion
Forest resources are very imperative to combat the threats of climate change. Peoples of Bangladesh are very industrial and trying to attain the recognition of developed country by the year of 2041. If we sustain our economic growth and environmental sustainability, time has come to utilize forest resources. As forest has the capacity to sink carbon, we have to protect our forest land. In addition, global forward looking agenda is poverty reduction and society-people oriented development then we need to empower indigenous peoples who live our forest areas mostly. It is vital, the indigenous peoples own native capacities to cultivate, protection of soil, secure wild species, plant species, nourish water and desert bodies. As we are on the way of development where alteration of climate and climatic disasters can change the scenario, we have to implement our all environmental laws, policies, home-grown thoughts and ensure human rights of indigenous communities to secure our wildlife and land in forest.

The Writer is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.