The government has increased the size of the four wildlife sanctuaries in the Sundarbans to enclose 52% of the forest's area, which was 23% previously, Environment Minister Md Shahab Uddin told the House on Monday.
While responding to a tabled question from ruling party lawmaker Didarul Alam in the parliament, the minister also said patrolling has been intensified at the wildlife sanctuaries.
The minister further said a tiger census through the camera trapping method was first carried out in the Sundarbans in 2015 and 106 tigers were found in the forest at that time. According to the 2018 census, the number of tigers in the mangrove forest is 114, he added.
Besides, there are one lakh to one and a half lakh deer, 165-200 crocodiles, and 40,000-50,000 monkeys in the Sundarbans, he continued.
The minister also told the House that Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan (2019-2027) has been formulated to protect the national animal of Bangladesh. Besides, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) patrolling system has been implemented in the Sundarbans by providing special training to forest workers to stop wildlife crime, he said, adding high-speed vessels and drones are used in the special patrol system.
The minister went on to say all kinds of passes and permits to enter the Sundarbans remain suspended for three months from June to August – the breeding season for most animals – every year, while regular awareness meetings and backyard meetings are arranged to stop the killing of tigers, deer, and crocodiles in the forest.
He further said the Rasmela at Dublar Char has been permanently closed to curb wildlife smuggling.
Also, 49 village tiger response teams have been formed for the conservation of tigers in the Sundarbans and a provision has been made to provide a maximum of Tk3 lakh in compensation to the families of those killed or injured in tiger and crocodile attacks in the Sundarbans, the environment minister concluded.
Labour shortage in agriculture sector
In response to a question from Jatiya Party lawmaker Mujibul Haque Chunnu, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said labour shortage has started affecting the agriculture sector. The crisis of agricultural labour reaches its peak, especially during the times of the transplantation of seedlings and harvesting of paddy.
To overcome this crisis, the government is implementing a mega project titled "Agricultural Mechanisation through Integrated Agricultural Management," said the minister, adding that through this project, modern agricultural apparatuses are being distributed among the farmers at up to 50% subsidised prices (70% in case of the haor region).
The minister also told parliament that 51,300 high-end agricultural implements would be distributed in five years under the project.
Mentioning that the government has given a subsidy of Tk7,420.55 crore in the fiscal year 2020-21 to reduce the prices of fertilisers and supply them to farmers at nominal prices, he, however, said the government has no plans to provide subsidies on essential pesticides for agriculture.
Dhaka-Toronto nonstop Biman flights from June
Meanwhile, in reply to a question from ruling party lawmaker Shafiqul Islam Shimul, State Minister for Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali told the parliament that the state-run Biman Bangladesh Airlines will launch nonstop commercial flights between Dhaka and Toronto.
"On 26 March 2022, Biman operated an experimental commercial flight on the Dhaka-Toronto-Dhaka route. Efforts are on to operate nonstop commercial flights between Dhaka and Toronto from 11 June. Biman flights have been operating on the Sylhet-London-Sylhet route since 4 October 2020."
The minister also said there are plans to resume flights to Narita and Bahrain and expand the airline's services to Chennai, Male, and Colombo as new destinations.
The government also plans to operate flights on the New York route in the near future, subject to upgrading Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Category-1, he said.
Besides, efforts are on to identify profitable routes by evaluating the existing routes, and operate flights to new destinations, he added.
The state minister also informed the parliament that Biman Bangladesh Airlines currently has 21 aircraft in its fleet. Of these, 18 are own aircraft and the other three are leased.
In addition, feasibility studies are underway to add new-generation passenger and cargo aircraft to the Biman fleet to enhance its passenger transport capacity and quality of service.