Environmentalists, rights bodies and eminent persons have expressed deep concern over some provisions of The Wildlife (protection and safety) Act 2012, passed in parliament on Sunday.
In a statement yesterday, they said the act, in the name of management, would facilitate commercialisation and social forestry by dividing natural forests into parts, thus putting wildlife and the forests at stake.
Though the act has been formulated for the conservation and safety of wildlife, it appears to have been enacted only to manage the protected areas, they alleged.
The act depicts 10 new types of protected areas, but the roles of the forest department in this regard are not mentioned, the activists said. They mentioned that the success of the forest department in managing the existing two types of such areas had already been questioned.
“It is not comprehensible [to us] how the forest department, without undergoing necessary administrative reforms, can manage so many new protected areas,” said the statement.
The signatories to the statement also termed the move to prepare legal grounds for creating buffer zones in natural forests “unprecedented” and alleged that the government had not proposed ways to get back the already ruined forests.
Even though the co-management of the forests envisaged a consensus of all concerned stakeholders in the management of natural resources, they said, the government had vested all authority of formation and activities of the co-management committees in the forest department.
Moreover, they said, the new act would also affect the rights of people dependent on forests because “like the act of 1973, it lacks the provision of assessing public opinion before declaring any area protected and does not recognise the traditional rights”. It also contradicts the election manifesto of the government led by the Awami League, they noted.
The act also did not ensure the forest people’s rights regarding professions, traditions and livelihoods even though it covers those in the case of fishermen, they said.
The activists also expressed their frustration regarding the government’s failure to consider the opinions and concerns of experts, environmentalists and forest-dependent people on the draft. “It is unfortunate that the bill was passed ignoring many important opinions,” said the statement.
The environment and forests ministry also did not accept their written opinions and suggestions on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act before it was placed in parliament.
The signatories to the statement included Syeda Rezwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (Bela), who issued the statement on behalf of Raja Devasish Roy, Chakma circle chief; Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra; Khushi Kabir of Nijera Kori; Farah Kabir of ActionAid Bangladesh; Prof Sadeka Halim; Shamsul Huda, executive director of Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD); Md Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa); Abu Nasser Khan, chairman of Paribesh Bachao Andolon (Paba); environmentalists Ronald Halder; Gautam Dewan; Sudatta Bikash Tanchangya; Gidison Pradhan Suchiang and Yougin Nakrek.
Urging the government to reconsider the provisions that contradict environment protection and human rights, they asked for necessary changes to be brought into the act.