A total of 1,830 people have illegally occupied around 4,000 acres of Ramgarh-Sitakunda reserve forest in Chattogram's Fatikchhari upazila in defiance of the forest act.
According to the amended Forest Act 1927 and the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012, no enterprise can be set up in reserved forests and doing so will be considered a criminal offence.
Despite this, houses and markets have been built by occupying reserve forest lands in the upazila.
The chairman of Bagan Bazar union in the upazila, Mohammad Rustom Ali, is one of those who built markets in a reserved forest area in Andharmanik Bazar.
The two markets, locally known as Chairman Market, have been built on 1,800 square feet of area on both sides of Heyako-Khagrachhari road. The road leads to dense forests.
The market on the left side of the road is a one-storey building while the other is a tin-roofed structure.
There is a guard office of the Chattogram Forest Department at the entrance to the forest. A brick road has been built inside the forest. After moving a few yards ahead, one will find a one-storey building. Then, there are mud houses and tin-roofed houses scattered over 4,000 acres of forest land.
A total of 13,130 acres of land of Chattogram Forest Circle (north) have been illegally occupied, according to a letter sent to the Forest Department's Dhaka office by the circle officials this month.
The major portion of the occupied lands – 8,295 acres – is in Fatikchhari.
Bokhtiar Nur Siddiqui, divisional forest officer of Chattogram Forest Circle (north), said eviction notices had been served on Rustom several times but he did not respond.
"Later, an eviction case was also filed against him. A letter has been sent to the Chattogram district administration to evict him. Action will be taken against all land-grabbers gradually," he added.
According to Forest Department sources, an eviction notice signed by Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Illias Hossain was sent to Rustom on May 22 last year.
He was asked to demolish his two markets but they are still there after six months.
Rustom told The Business Standard, "There were only two markets – Bagan Bazar market and Andharmanik market – in my union before the Chairman Market was set up for 70,000 people living in the union. If the Chairman Market is demolished, many people will suffer losses. Also, the government gets Tk4-5 lakh in lease payments annually from the market.
"The Chairman Market is part of Andharmanik market and I just own several shops there. We know that no 1 khatian (land record) of this land is under the district administration. After getting the eviction notice, I have appealed to the deputy commissioner for not demolishing my market," he added.