There have been 24 fires in the Sundarbans East Range in the last 20 years, but the recommendations of investigation committees on how to avoid fires have still not been implemented.
Local people concerned and environmentalists have claimed that fire incidents have been occurring repeatedly because recommendations made over years have not been implemented.
According to the Sundarbans East Forest Department: 2002 had three fires – in Katka, Nangli and Mandarbaria; 2005 had two fires – in Pachakoralia and Ghutabaria Sutar Canal; 2006 had five fires – in Terabeka, Amurbunia, Khurabaria, Pachakoralia, and Dhansagar; 2007 had three fires – in Pachakoralia, Nangli and Dumuria; 2010 had a fire in Gulshakhali; 2011 had two fires – both in Nangli; 2014 had a fire in Gulshakhali; 2016 had three fires – in Nangli, Pachakoralia and Tulatuli; and 2017 had a fire in Madarasa Chhila.
The latest fire incident occurred in Dhansagar, of Chandpai Range, on 8 February, 2021.
According to the Forest Department, more than 28.73 hectares (71 acres and 6 decimals) of forest land have been damaged in the 24 fire incidents. The damage is estimated at more than Tk18.55 lakh.
According to the reports of the committees formed after the big fire incidents, the causes of the fires were: fires used by moualis (honey-hunters) in the forest, fisherfolk smoking cigarettes, drought, and vengeful action by those convicted of forest-related crimes and miscreants.
The investigation committees also blamed a thick layer of the leaves of various trees as the cause of the long duration of the fires.
The reports of the inquiry committees, formed at different times to suggest measures to avoid fires, focused on three recommendations.
They are that rivers and canals adjacent to the Sundarbans should be excavated, watchtowers should be constructed every two kilometres in fire-prone areas and the forest adjacent to the River Bhola, in Chandpai Range, should be fenced-off with barbed wire or nylon rope nets. However, none of the recommendations have been implemented yet.
Nazrul Islam Akon, convener of the Sundarbans Protection Committee in Sharankhola, said a lack of adequate manpower had disrupted surveillance measures in the Sundarbans.
"In order to keep the Sundarbans free from fire, it is necessary to increase surveillance as well as create awareness among the locals in the forest areas. Complaints against forest rangers, that come up from time to time, should be properly investigated and action should be taken in this regard," he said.
Dr Sheikh Faridul Islam, chairman of Save the Sundarbans Foundation, said the extent of damage reported by the forest department about the Sundarbans fires is small.
"I think the damage caused by the forest fires is several times higher. The forest department has investigated the incidents with its internal committees. Compensation has been shown to be less in its own interest," he said.
In order to protect the Sundarbans, it is the demand of the times to excavate rivers and canals adjacent to the Sundarbans and fence off the forest near the localities, he further said.
He also demanded that measures be taken against miscreants and unscrupulous forest officials.
Muhammad Belayet Hossain, divisional forest officer of the Sundarbans East Range, said, "We have been waiting to implement the three recommendations of our probe committees through different projects. I hope these recommendations will be implemented soon. Free access to the Sundarbans will be stopped. In addition, the issue of a manpower crisis has also been made known to the higher authorities."