Focus on protecting wildlife, not commercial forestry practices
Instead of protecting wildlife, the proposed wildlife preservation act focuses more on giving more power and dominion to an incompetent forest department widely criticised for its commercial forestry practices, said speakers at a discussion yesterday.
The draft law is worse than the 38-year-old Bangladesh Wildlife Preservation Act, 1974 it is replacing. It needs a comprehensive review with increased focus on preserving biodiversity and rights of local inhabitants, improved monitoring and enforcement policies, they said.
The Daily Star organised the discussion on Wildlife Preservation Act 2010 at The Daily Star Centre in the city. Environmentalists, lawyers, indigenous leaders and wildlife experts took part in the discussion.
The actual contents of the draft are very different, filled with complex and confusing definitions and loopholes, said Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) Joint Secretary Iqbal Habib.
For example, the previous law bars the construction of industries or any other forms of polluting elements within 10 kilometres of a forest. But the draft seeks to shrink that zone to two kilometres, he said.
If passed, the law will declare much of the protected forests as “buffer zones” where commercial plantations will be in place, said Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Chief Executive Advocate Syeda Rizwana Hasan.
“Buffer zones need to be outside the protected forest areas, not inside them,” she said.
Providing the forest department with more authority on forests and protected areas will only “legalise the indiscriminate acquisition of land currently going on across the country,” said Iqbal Habib of Bapa.
This will only lead to greater violation of rights of the indigenous population living across the country, said Bangladesh Adivasi Forum General Secretary Sanjib Drong, adding that the draft needs more discussions and reviews.
It promises to worsen conditions for indigenous people, who have been facing legal action over false and trivial matters, said Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) Rangamati unit coordinator Advocate Jewel Dewan.
The draft law does not include any policy on monitoring activities, which deserves an entire chapter, said Reaz Morshed, programme officer of Sundarbans Tiger Project at Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.
It also needs to address poaching and illegal logging through effective monitoring, especially by local residents through incentives, he said.
However, effective wildlife preservation is impossible without an independent body for wildlife protection, said Dr Ronald Halder, a noted wildlife expert.
Biodiversity protection needs equal attention as animals will not survive without proper flora and fauna, said Save the Environment Movement Chairman Abu Naser Khan.
There is also no agency to regulate hunting, which is an important factor in preserving wildlife, he added.
The loss of animal species should be blamed on decreasing forests, not hunting, which receives more criticism than it deserves, said Wildlife Conservation Foundation Secretary Maqbul Elahi.
Association for Land Reform and Development Executive Director Shamsul Huda urged the government to review the laws practised in other countries and take pointers on improving the draft.
Chairman of the Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment and Forests, Abdul Momin Talukder, said there was still much time and room for discussions and consultations before the law was passed in parliament.
He urged all stakeholders to approach the government with suggestions and recommendations so that it can pass a “beautiful law”.