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The killing of forest rangers underlines the declining power of Bangladeshi authorities

  • The recent killing of a forest ranger by illegal quarryers in Bangladesh has raised questions about the effectiveness of law enforcement in a context of increasing encroachment on protected forests.
  • Sajjaduzzaman, 30, was hit by the quarries’ truck after confronting them while they were excavating a hill in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar.
  • Attacks on forest rangers by people illegally logging, quarrying, hunting or engaging in other forms of natural resource extraction are a long-standing problem, with around 140 officers attacked in the past five years.
  • Experts have called for a more coordinated approach among various government law enforcement agencies to support the Forest Department in keeping encroachers out of protected areas.

DHAKA – Police in Bangladesh have arrested one person and are searching for nine others suspected of killing a forest ranger after he caught them illegally excavating land in a protected area in the country’s southern Cox’s Bazar district . The incident highlights what experts say is a worrying trend of law enforcement agencies failing to keep pace with increasing pressure from illegal resource extraction.

Sajjaduzzaman, 30, an officer with the Cox’s Bazar South Forest Division, responded to reports of illegal land mining in a hilly reserve in the Ukhia area in the early hours of March 31. The group of men excavating the mound struck Sajjaduzzaman and his motorcyclist with their dump truck during the confrontation, killing the officer and seriously injuring the driver.

“The Forest Department has filed a case against 10 miscreants a day after the incident, and police have already arrested one person,” Bipul Krishna Das, forest officer for Chattogram division where Cox’s Bazar is located, told Mongabay.

Sajjaduzzaman, 30, an officer with the Cox's Bazar South Forest Division, was killed by illegal quarrying.
Sajjaduzzaman, 30, an officer with the Cox’s Bazar South Forest Division, was killed by illegal quarrying.

Das said the department is taking necessary steps to bring the people involved in the incident to justice and is closely monitoring the situation. This was reiterated on April 3 by Bangladesh’s Environment Minister Saber Hossain Chowdhury, who told reporters that necessary legal initiatives have been taken to ensure exemplary punishment for the suspects.

“Those involved in the murder will be brought to justice, ensuring maximum punishment for them,” he added.

Attacks on forest rangers by people caught illegally logging, quarrying, hunting or other forms of natural resource extraction are a long-standing problem in Bangladesh. About 140 police officers have been attacked in the country in the past five years.

“In Cox’s Bazar these days, the robbers are becoming more and more desperate,” said Md. Sarwar Alam, head of the divisional forest office where Sajjaduzzaman was stationed, at Mongabay. “In September 2023, a gang of grabbers smuggling soil from a reserve forest also carried out an attack on forest officials, leaving ten injured. Of them, one was seriously injured and was sent to a hospital in Chattogram City for better treatment.

He added that forest rangers have been attacked 16 times in Cox’s Bazar in the past year, and that while the Forest Department conducts regular patrols in protected forests, pressure on resources such as timber and land is increasing.

“Hills and forests here are being conquered by excessive human pressure. Forcibly displaced Rohingyas, who have now sought shelter in the Cox’s Bazar camps, are contributing to the rapid depletion of reserved forests,” Sarwar said.

According to Forest Department data, 28,542 people had entered the reserve forests in Cox’s Bazar (period?), illegally occupying 13,348 hectares (32,984 acres) – the most of all 64 districts of Bangladesh. The same data shows that a total of 88,215 people across the country have captured a total of 56,095 hectares (138,614 acres) of reserve forest.

Sarwar said the Forest Department is struggling to protect forests as it does not have enough manpower. “It is not possible for the department to save the forests alone.” He suggested setting up a joint task force with other law enforcement agencies to carry out eviction drives against violators.

“Fast-track tribunals should be formed to deal with the forest-related cases,” Sarwar said, citing provisions of a 2002 law that allows trials to be expedited en masse. In this way, he added, “positive results will be achieved. It will pave the way for exemplary punishment for forest attackers.”

Himchari National Park
A forest in Cox’s Bazar district. According to Forest Department data, 28,542 people had entered reserve forests in Cox’s Bazar, illegally occupying 13,348 hectares (32,984 acres) – the most of all 64 districts of Bangladesh. Image by Rayhan Ahmed via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), agreed that the government needs to take a more coordinated approach against violators, saying they are becoming better organised. She called on the land administration and police to cooperate with the Forest Department in protecting the forests and their resources, and suggested that the Ministry of Environment could prepare a list of known violators to be sent to district authorities for follow-up action.

“Local authorities always put pressure on the Forest Department when the issue of forest entrenchment arises. So, protection should be provided to the forest managers,” Rizwana said, adding that at the same time, instructions should be issued to local governments, enforcement agencies and others involved in working with the Forest Department to protect the forests.

Krishna, the Chattogram forest conservator, suggested strengthening the existing Forest Conservation Act and not leasing concessions for quarries near forest areas.

Banner image: A quarry in the Sylhet district of Bangladesh. Image by Syed Sajidul Islam via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Sand mining is a boon for the illegal industry, at the expense of the environment in Bangladesh

Environment, Environmental law, Environmental politics, Forests, Governance, Illegal mining, Land conflicts, Law, Law enforcement, Mining, Politics, Protected areas, Violence

Asia, Bangladesh, South Asia

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