World Rainforest Movement

Bangladesh: The Modhupur fortified forest

The book authored by Philip Gain -Stolen Forests, published in 2006- denounces the horrendous consequences of the introduction of plantations —teak, rubber, eucalyptus and acacia monocultures— on Bangladesh’s native forests.

Except for the Sundarbans, monoculture plantations have rapidly expanded in recent times in all forest regions of Bangladesh. This has happened in the setting of rapid expansion of ‘simple plantation forestry’ around the globe. The plantation projects are implemented by the government but are financed mostly by the international financial institutions (IFIs) -Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank.

The promotion of plantation economy is one of the major factors that underlie the destruction of forests and the misery of the forest-dwelling ethnic communities. There are very disturbing statistics —the country’s official 18 per cent public forestland has shrunk to approximately six per cent that includes the mangrove forests and the plantation of more than 400,000 ha.

‘Degraded’, ‘denuded’ and ‘less productive’ forestlands are usually targeted for plantations. However, what is often branded as ‘less productive’ or ‘degraded’ is actually native forest that has immense social, cultural, traditional, educational, medicinal and environmental values.

In the Modhupur sal forest (Shorea robusta), invasive species have made their way into the forestland under the guise of ‘social forestry’ that is plantation in essence. Now, the traditional Modhupur sal forest has vanished in most parts and the Forest Department (FD) wants to protect the last bits! Inspired by a World Bank funded study under the Forest Resources Management Project (FRSP), it wanted to erect 66 thousand feet walls around 3,500 acres in the National Park that is marked as core area.

But the ground realities did not favour the FD. The indigenous Garos around the so-called core area stood strong against the walls. During a demonstration on January 3, 2004, the FD guards and the police opened gunfire to stop the demonstrators. A Garo man, Piren Snal was killed. Utpal Nokrek, another Garo youth of Beduria village, was severely wounded and has become paralyzed for the rest of his life. Many others were wounded from gun-shots. The construction of the walls was suspended in the face of strong criticism and resistance. Since then the wall issue in Modhupur has become nationally and globally known. Of the approximately 20,000 feet of walls constructed, almost half has been demolished.

It was not just the walls that were ruined as an aftermath of the shooting on the Garo protestors. The stands of trees that still survived have been drastically reduced. Organized gangs of wood smugglers took advantage of the trouble and cut whatever they could take away. The banana cultivators also cut hundreds of acres. The FD officials put the blame on the anti-wall movement for this situation. The Garos complain that the FD turned a blind eye on the situation to put the blame on them.

Last January, the Forest Department again attempted to erect the eco-park walls that it had to postpone. The walls involve approximately 3,000 of 63,000 acres of the Modhupur reserved forest. What has happened, and will happen, to the major share of the forest outside the walls? One traveling to any corner of the Modhupur forest will see huge banana, papaya and pineapple plots. These have replaced the forestland, and have caused wholesale destruction of the gene pools of the forests. The Garos -who have been forced to rent most of the high land in their possession for banana cultivation- agree that it is a serious problem for their environment, economy and society.

Depletion of the sal forest in Modhupur has severely affected the life of the Garos and other forest dependent people. The majority of the estimated 20,000 Garos and Koch in Modhupur are concentrated in two unions — Aronkhola and Sholakuri (distributed in some 40 villages). At one time they had full access to the forest and its resources. But actions such as a ban on shifting cultivation in the 1950s, establishment of national parks, promotion of plantation economy, aggression of massive scale banana plantation, construction of roads, and encroachments, have reduced the forest to a miserable size and have unsettled the traditional life of the Garos and the Koch.

The process of the destruction of the Modhupur sal forest has apparently gone beyond control. Many believe that the complete destruction of the Modhupur sal forest is only a matter of time.

Excerpted and adapted from: Comment of the book authored by Philip Gain “Stolen Forests”, http://www.sehd.org/pubnew12.html; and “Modhupur walls to protect wilderness or marauders!”, by Philip Gain, Earth Touch, Nº 10, April 2007, a publication of SEHD (Society for Environment and Human Development), http://www.sehd.org/reports-features/modhupur-wall-2007.doc