Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has expressed concern over the decision to lease land in the middle of Harargoj Reserve Forest of Moulvibazar to a tea-growing company and over its labelling as Khas land in a controversial land survey.
The organisation has called for all concerned to refrain from taking such decisions which are environmentally destructive, suicidal and unconstitutional.
At the same time, it has demanded exemplary accountability of local officials who seek to destroy the reserve forest by sending wrong information to high-level officials.
TIB executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said in a statement on Saturday, "Despite being recognised as a protected forest for hundreds of years, which is essential for the environment, labelling it Khas land is intentional and very worrying."
"The forest, known as the habitat of wildlife, is very important in tackling climate change and maintaining the balance of the environment. However, a quarter of the local government officials deliberately changed the classification of land in the digital survey as part of the implementation of this nefarious purpose – in collaboration with a seemingly influential quarter. As a result, the land could be leased," he added.
"The incident should be investigated properly and the responsible persons must be held accountable," he demanded.
"Similarly, the recommendation from the Prime Minister's Office to lease the tea production company is questionable. TIB thinks this will patronise the interests of the vested interests in settling the ongoing land dispute.
According to the investigation recommendation of the then-Director General of the Department of Land Records and Survey in 2014, no land in the forest can be leased. The people concerned were instructed to find those involved in this intentional mistake and take departmental punishment. If this instruction had been implemented, the entire forest would not have been created in the way it is today.
Overall, a self-interested group is moving forward with a well-planned strategy centred on this protected forest. The whole matter has been misrepresented at the highest levels of government as a result of collusion of a section of local officials. Therefore, the authorities concerned need to proceed with utmost caution before taking any decision in this regard.
At the same time, the tribunal can decide in this regard in a completely impartial manner, out of any kind of fear, pressure and apprehension, prioritising the environment and environmental interests. All concerned have to play a more responsible role in this regard," he said.