Park and People
According to the Forest Department, the Safari Park is
necessary to keep away the influential forest grabbers
Nearly 7,000 families of eight villages at the Sreepur Upazilla are in constant fear of forced eviction because of the establishment of 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Safari Park.' The Forest Department wants to make this park in the vast area in Shalbon, which is home to ethnic Barman community and the Bengali people.
Members belonging to both the communities have told the Star that the Forest Department is constantly serving them notices for evacuation without any consultation with them. To make it even worse, they allege that 'false cases' have also been trumped up on charges of 'harassment'.
“We also want a Safari Park for the protection of the forest, the nature and the wild life. But we want assurance from the government of our cultivation in our own land,” they add.
On the other hand, the Forest Department has said that they want to make the Safari Park not only for protection of the Shalbon, but also it is necessary to keep away the powerful forest grabbers of Gazipur.
The officials have told the Star that the Safari Park is being constructed taking the consent of the majority of the people of the area. The total project area is 3090 acres, and only 600 acres need to be acquired. Meantime 200 acres of land has been acquired already.
“We ensure that the rest of the land will be acquired at a price of taka 25 lakh per acre and the consent of the local inhabitants will be taken. Also the aggrieved will be consulted and none will be evicted by force', an official says.
|Photos: ZANNATUL FERDOUS
In this point Adivasi and Bengalis of the eight villages--Bheramtoli, Piruzali, Indrapur, Dheltoli, Kabarchhata, Dakshin Baro Topa, Chhitpara and Chetjhuri, are face to face with the Forest Department.
Karno Mohan Barman, a villager, says, “We along with 5000 Bengalis are living in peace since ages. We possess forest lands for cultivation and homestead by inheritance. But we don't know anything about the Safari Park project. All on a sudden, notices have been served on us by the Land Acquisition Officer of Gazipur about acquisition of our land. So we are in a constant fear of eviction.”
Govinda Barman, a Barman leader has complained that the Forest Department is trying to acquire their lands without consulting the local people.
He says, “We could not gather any information in spite of our efforts from the Forest Department. Also we know nothing about our rehabilitation and compensation once our land is acquired. We have the right to know about these in details.”
Narayan Barman says that after serving notices the officers of the Forest Department came last March for survey and there were altercations and scuffles with the locals. As a result, two cases have been lodged against nine Bengalis and many unknown Barmans on the charge of hindering government work. Now in addition to the fear of eviction they are also afraid of arrest.
Photos: ZANNATUL FERDOUS
"We also want the Safari Park for the protection of the forest, but it should not be at the expense of our livelihood. Otherwise, thousands of people will be utterly ruined upon eviction,” he added.
Another person of the locality, Nayeb Ali says, “If we have to leave the cultivable lands and homesteads of our forefathers, where will we go and what will we eat?”
He says that if no proper rehabilitation is made all the Bengalis and Barmans of the area will have to turn to begging.
Abdur Rahim, another villager, says, “We have seen in the past that, once the acquisition is done, it takes many years to get comprehension from the government.”
Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator (Nature and Wild Animals) of the Forest Department says, "The Bangabandhu Safari Park is a necessity for protecting the Ghazipur Shalbon. Many influential people are setting up garment factories, resorts, private picnic spots, shooting spots and pleasure homes all over the shalbon of the Bhawal Garh taking the permission of the court. If the Safari Park is created, the forest will be protected along with it the wild animals of the area will also be saved. Moreover echo-tourism will be developed around this park. The project has been approved by the ECNEC and it has also the court's approval."
Thousands of people are in constant fear of forced eviction because of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Safari Park.
The Safari Park project cost is going to 70 crore taka, animals of local and foreign variety will be preserved in the park. The park is going to be home to elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, gavials, tigers, leopards, lions, beers, sambar and chitra deer, buffalos, gayal, monkeys of various species, apes, sloth, wild cat and migratory birds. Apart from creating habitats for birds of rare species, a vast watery resort will be built for the migratory birds.
It is also said that, these wild animals will be fed regularly by a team of experienced persons. On one side of the park a hospital covering 200 square meters will be created for the treatment of sick wild animals. In this medical centre the sick and wounded animals will be given treatment, and will be freed in the park upon recovery. The visitors with forest guards will move around the 13 kilometres road inside the park in two mini-bus, a few jeeps and pickup-vans. A group of guides will also be trained to explain the visitors about the environment and the animals. Gazipur Safari Park will be the second such park after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Safari Park (First) in the Dulahazra, Cox's Bazar.