- 10 people occupying at least 325 acres of forest land
- Although the encroachers have been occupying the forestlands for long, the Forest Department failed to evict them
- Locals alleged that some of the occupiers, using local influence, have even built structures on the occupied forestlands
Encroachment of forestland is going on unabated in Sylhet with 10 people occupying at least 325 acres of forest land.
According to a list made by the Forest Department, six of these 10 occupiers are from Gowainghat upazila and four from Companiganj.
In December 2020, the Sylhet Divisional Forest Department prepared a list of top 10 encroachers of the division's forestland and sent it to the ministry for further steps.
It has been alleged that although the encroachers have been occupying the forestlands for a long period of time, the Forest Department failed to evict them.
Locals alleged that some of the occupiers, using local influence, have even built structures on the occupied forestlands.
During a spot visit to the Sateer haor area in Lengura union of Gowainghat upazila, it was seen that paddy was being cultivated on a vast area of the haor. Only a decade ago, the Forest Department used to cultivate Murta – a kind of cane, from which the traditional Sheetal Pati is made.
The whole Murta garden is now a vast paddy field cultivated by a person named Yusuf Ali from the union.
According to the Forest Department, Yusuf alone has kept 50 acres of forestland occupied for a long time.
He first occupied the land during 2010, destroying the murta garden created by the Forest Department on 80 hectares of land in 2008-09.
When contacted, Yusuf confessed to The Business Standard that he had occupied "some forestland" but the amount of land was "not so much".
He claimed that some of the land was fallow and had turned into a jungle. "We just cleared the land to cultivate paddy," he said.
District Forest Department's range officers, however, said Yusuf Ali has formed his own force to occupy forestland. Whenever the department officials conduct a recovery drive, he attacks them with the force.
Another person named Kalyan Biswas from Dighalbak Par village in Companiganj upazila is second on the list, occupying 45 acres of forestland.
Kalyan has built many structures on the occupied land. The Forest Department has sent a proposal to the deputy commissioner of the district for evicting Kalyan and filing cases against him.
Talking to TBS, Kalyan claimed that many local people in the area cultivate on the fallow land of the Forest Department. "Those who do not have their own land cultivate forestlands. It does not mean that they have occupied the land," he said.
According to the list, Cherag Ali of Sateer haor area under Gowainghat has occupied 40 acres; Jabesh, son of Thakurmoni of Dighalbak Par village of Companiganj, has occupied 32 acres; Abdul Hamid from Edirbadi village under Ratargul area under Gowainghat 30 acres; Shamsul Islam, son of Sakibullah from Shimulbil haor under Gowainghat 30 acres; Tofail, son of Makdar Ali of Chhedargaon village under Companiganj, 26 acres; Mahbubur Rahman Jibon, son of Masud Chowdhury of Kalibari area of Companiganj, 25 acres; and Syedur Rahman, son of Akram Ullah from Kalibari area under Companiganj, has occupied 22 acres of forestland.
Officials at the Sylhet Divisional Forest Office, most of the occupied forestland is in the possession of these 10 people and they reoccupy the land soon after they are evicted.
According to the Forest Department, of its 1.55 lakh acres of forestlands in Sylhet, about 58,000 acres have been occupied. Most of these occupied forestlands are in Gowainghat upazila.
When contacted, Sylhet Divisional Forest Officer SM Sajjad Hossain said the government has taken a strict stand to recover forestland.
"We have already made a list of the top occupiers. The process of recovering land from them has started. We have a plan to reclaim 1,700 acres of forestland," he said, hoping that within the next five years, all forestlands will be recovered.
"If a piece of land is not afforested after recovery, it gets reoccupied. So, we have undertaken an initiative to afforest the land immediately after evicting the occupiers," he added.