We welcome the decision of the parliamentary standing committee of the environment, forest and climate change ministry to launch eviction drives to recover 138,000 acres of reserve forestland grabbed by 88,000 individuals and organisations across the country. The ministry will write to all deputy commissioners across the country by January 31 to prepare eviction notices; by February, the DCs will serve the notices, and the eviction process will begin from March.
In early October, the ministry informed the committee that 287,000 acres of forestland, including 138,000 acres of reserve forestland, are being illegally occupied by individuals and organisations. Of the 64 districts, Cox's Bazar has lost the highest area of forestland—59,471 acres—to grabbers, according to the ministry data. Unfortunately, we have witnessed before how such land is taken by government organisations, or how the encroachers are often affiliated with members of the ruling party, which further enables them. Negligence and apathy towards enforcing land protection laws are amongst the main causes behind such criminal activities.
The authorities cannot be silent any longer. They need to come out of their slumber and hold those responsible to account. Often, leaders at the top are heard announcing that criminal elements in the party would be purged but so far, only a handful have been taken to task. We are hopeful it will now change for the better as the ministry will publish the names of the grabbers of forestland on its website and also digitise all the records and documents on forestland. While it may not be an easy task to free all the land that has been encroached, we are optimistic about the JS body's much awaited initiative to begin the eviction of grabbers nationwide. If there is political will, such remedial actions may actually rescue much of our forestland.