Vol. 5 Num 807 Sat. September 02, 2006  
Front Page

28 on Cox's Bazar land grabbers' list
Offshore forest depleting fast

The Chittagong Coastal Forest Department has published a list of 28 land grabbers featuring some local union parishad (UP) chairmen and political leaders, and sought the administration's intervention in its drive to recover the public lands and forests.

Paraban, a manmade forest along the offshore areas of Kutubjom, Baro Moheshkhali and Ghatibhanga, is among the forestland grabbed.

Shahidullah, Baro Moheshkhali UP chairman and brother of local ruling party lawmaker Alamgir Mohammad Mahfuz Ullah Farid, Anwar Pasha Chowdhury, president of Moheshkhali upazila AL, and Sharif Badsha, former UP chairman of Baro Moheshkhali, among others, figure in the list that came out on August 17, official sources said.

Despite cases filed by the forest department, land grabbing in the district continues unabated mainly to set up enclosures for shrimp cultivation.

The wholesale land grabbing and destruction of forests have stirred up anger among the local environmentalists, journalists, lawyers and citizens' groups.

Concerned especially over rapid destruction of Paraban, the locals had earlier staged demonstrations for a government move declaring the area an exclusive tourist zone. They had also submitted memorandums to the local administration seeking immediate measures to conserve the forest.

The lands and forests close to the coast are being grabbed at an outrageous pace across five upazilas of the district. Court orders for recovery of the lands could not yet be enforced, as most of the encroachers are influential leaders of the ruling party, said sources at the forest department.

In the last four and a half years, the land grabbing has exceeded all previous records when the forest department officials had to play a mere onlooker's role.

According to forest officials, out of 27,293 acres forestland in the district, 12,000 acres have already fallen into the hands of grabbers during that period.

These 28 people have grabbed a total of 1,435 acres public lands and forests, forest department sources said.

The department has filed 458 cases against 1,843 encroachers in the last four years, they added.

Courts on different occasions have ordered recovery of 912 acres of forestland--320 acres in Dhalghata, 200 in Charandip, 10 in Matarbari, 350 in Siradia and 32 acres in Lemshikhali. But the matter virtually ended there.

Chittagong Coastal Forest Officer MA Khaleq said, "We are still filing cases. But so far our efforts to recover the lands have seen little progress. We have published the list to draw the administration's attention and seek their help in repossessing the lands and forests."

Soon the list will be submitted to the deputy commissioner (DC) of Cox's Bazar, he added.

The failure to bring the culprits to book in fact encourages the land grabbing to go on unhindered, Cox's Bazar Forest Range Officer Kush Kumar Baidya said.

"We have received copies of the court orders for recovery of 912 acres of land but have yet to take any action due to lack of manpower and logistics. On the other hand, the grabbers continue to warn us against any drive for land recovery," he added.

Advocate Faridul Alam, legal adviser of the Chittagong Coastal Forest Department, told The Daily Star that a section of high officials of the government helps in irregular allocation of government lands to political leaders and influential individuals.

Recently, The Daily Star has run a number of reports on indiscriminate land grabbing in the coastal area that has been going on in the name of shrimp cultivation. Later on July 17, the coastal forest department published a list of 15 land grabbers. The first name on that list was that of ruling party lawmaker from Cox's Bazar-4 Alamgir Mohammad Mahfuz Ullah.

In response to the developments, the district administration has ordered illegal occupants to vacate the lands in Paraban on the offshore island of Moheshkhali in Cox's Bazar.

Of the 28 people on the latest forest department list, Kala Mia of Ghotibhanga has occupied 50 acres, Badsha Mia of Ghotibhanga 50 acres, Mohammed Ishaque of Fakiragona 100, UP member Bashir Ahmed 50, Mahmud of Kutobjum 50, UP Member Badsha Miya of Kutubjom 20, Mohammed Shafi of Kutubjom 20, Abu Bakar Shikder of Gorakgata 150, Reduan of Battoly 130, Abdul Gafur of Kutubjom 70, Mohammed Maksud Shikdar of Kutubjom 70, Amir Hossain of Kutubjom 60, Makshud Sikder 60, UP Member Abdul Monaf of Kondakarpara 20, Shaedul Quader Shikdar of Gorakgata 120, Baro Moheshkhali UP Chairman Shahidullah 75, Anowar Pasha Chy of Fakiragona 30, Abdus Shukur, Kabir Ahmed, Jalal Ahmed, Akter Kamal Chy, and Mahmud Ullah each 135, former UP chairman of Baro Moheshkhali Sharif Badsha 100, Mujibur Rahman of Baro Moheshkhali 100 and Abdul Malek of Ghotibhanga 20 acres.

Remains of fast depleting manmade Parabon forest in Moheshkhali upazila under Chittagong district. Influential people are encroaching on the forests along the coastal areas to make shrimp enclosures. PHOTO: STAR