Green organisations have expressed grave concerns over the allotment of part of Khuniya Palong reserve forestland to the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) terming it a violation of the government's global commitment to protect forests and biodiversity.
On 7 June this year, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, ignoring the Forest Department's objection, allocated 20 acres of the forest to facilitate the construction of a residential technical centre of the BFF. The particular forest was declared a reserve forest in 1907.
Eleven green organisations and prominent citizens held a news conference at National Press Club on Wednesday to protest the decision where they said the BFF project would cause logging of around 30,000 plants and damage wildlife habitats in the "ecologically critical area".
"Without assessing the environmental impacts, how can the custodian of forest allot such a property for deforestation?" said the organisers.
They complained the government has been deserving one after another of the forestland of Cox's Bazar–the tourism capital that has already lost one-third of its green coverage in recent years following infrastructural development and the Rohingya influx.
According to a joint study by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA) and Youth Environment Society, 45,990 acres of Cox's Bazar-based 260,046-acre forestland was illegally grabbed by 43,568 people and 696 organisations. Besides, 6,164 acres of forestland were degraded due to Rohingya influx while the government allotted 14,372 acres of forestland to several government organisations.
At Khuniya Palong forest in Ramu upazila, the Football Federation will build a technical centre with two football fields, a medical centre and a four-storey dormitory, among others. The global governing body of football associations, Fifa, will fund the project.
While addressing the news conference, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said FIFA, according to its green strategy, cannot fund any development project detrimental to the environment and ecology.
BELA Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said government organisations have become hungry for a slice of land in Cox's Bazar.
Questioning the land-consuming spree, she demanded the government, as a trustee, conserve the ecology of the district for the next generation.
Citing several court orders, Rizwana said there is no scope for deforestation by the government.
Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) General Secretary Sharif Jamil said infrastructural development ignoring the risks of forest degradation is nothing but a violation of Bangladesh's promise to the Glasgow Leader Declaration taken place in COP 26.
In his keynote paper at the event, Green Cox's Bazar President Fazlul Quader Chowdhury requested fellow citizens to raise their voices for the conservation of forests.
Nijera Kori Secretary Khushi Kabir chaired the conference attended by architect Mubasshar Hussain, representatives from the Association for Land Reform and Development, Ain O Shalish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Air and Services, Cox's Bazar Nagorik Andolan, and Save the Cox's Bazar.