Foundation of "controversial" Eco-park to be laid today

Rajat Kanti Goswami, Moulvibazar

Amidst strong protests, the government has decided to go ahead with the Tk 11-crore 'Eco-park' project in Moulvibazar allegedly evicting hundreds of tribal families in the process.

Minister for Forest and Environment Sajeda Choudhury will lay the foundation stones of the two separate Eco-parks in Madhabkunda and Muraichhari, both in Moulvibazar district at 11am today.

At least ten 'Khasi punjis' (villages) will be affected by the planned development project of the government as more than one thousand families who have been living in the hills for centuries will be evicted.

There are allegations that Forest Department, the implementing authority of the project, has not taken any steps yet to rehabilitate the affected families.

Even worse, the decision to go ahead with the project was taken without any discussion with the tribals living in the hills, threatening the very existence of the resident Khasia and Garo tribes that depend mostly on betel leaf plantations in the area for their livelihood.

The Forest Department however does not acknowledge that Khasia tribals own any land in the forest.

The decision came as a cruel surprise to many as some of the tribal leaders who had recently met high officials in the Prime Minister's office were assured that the project would not be implemented without prior discussion with the 'residents' in the hills.

The government plans to develop a tourist garden or better known as 'Eco-park' centring the waterfalls at Madhabkunda and Muraichhari in the deep forests of the Moulvibazar district threatening not only the human habitation but also natural forests.

A total of 1500 acres of land would be utilised for the park including 667 acres in Madhabkunda and 833 acres in Muraichhari forest lands.

The government claims that the project is a part of the 'plan' for economic development as well as preserving the environment by protecting the precious forest habitation including rare animals and birds of the areas.

The Tk 11-crore project of the Ministry of Forest and Environment would be completed by the end of year 2004. The cabinet approved the 'bio-diversity conservation' project last July following the Prime Minister's approval on March 6 last year.

The project, Madhabkunda-Muraichhari Eco-park, would involve clearing more than 1500 acres of forest including Khasi lands probably by cutting off trees and levelling hills. Roads meandering through the hills will be constructed for passage of motor vehicles.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Christian Association strongly condemned the decision yesterday and protested the planned foundation-laying ceremony of the government.

In a press release issued in the city it said the project would lead to the eviction of hundreds of tribal Khasia and Garo families living in the hills since long. It also said that the event coincides with the Easter Sunday, one of the biggest Christian festivals. Most of the tribals in the hills are Christians.

"We are very worried by the decision which will also affect the day's celebration," said one of the association leaders.

Source: The Daily Star 14-04-2001


Garo-Khasia team meets convenor of eco-park body

A delegation of the Kasia and Garo communities held a meeting with the convenor of Eco-park inter-ministerial committee yesterday to discuss the latest move by the government to develop a tourist garden in Moulvibazaar.

The delegates expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome of the meeting where the government persisted in going ahead with developing the Eco-park in the ancestral homeland for the Khasia and Garo at Madhabkunda and Muraicharri.

The delegates said it was told at the meeting that the government's plan to develop the park in Moulvibazaar would not threaten the existence of Khasia and Garo families living in the hills.

However, the government failed to give any substantial assurance to the leaders that the Eco-park around the waterfalls at Madhabkunda and Muraicharri in the deep forests of Moulvibazaar would not affect tribal habitations.

Earlier the same members of the delegation met Dr S A Malek, political advisor to the prime minister, to brief him on the situation.

The leaders also said the Convenor of the committee Musharaf Hossain, also joint secretary of the Forest and Environment Ministry, informed the leaders that Eco-Park would rather benefit the Khasia and Garo families living in the areas.

The Khasia and Garo leaders, however, remained firm on their earlier demand that if the government go ahead with the plan at all, they should develop it in the reserved forest land and not in the Khasia and Garo villages.

The four-year project poses such threats as entertainment for tourists, preservation of rare forest animals and plants, and construction of buildings for offices and schools in the remoter hills.

The tourist garden better known as 'Eco-park' threatens to evict upwards of one thousand tribal families from their ancestral lands, who have been living in the hills for centuries with betel leaf and nut being their main livelihood.

Even worse is that most of the people in the hills who have ownership of rental agreement (lease) of high land for living have been told to leave the project area.

Source: The Daily Star 16-03-2001

BACSP demands cancellation of Ecopark project

March 14, 2001 Daily Star--

Rangladesh Adibashi Chhatra Sangram Parishad (BACSP) yesterday brought out a procession on the Dhaka University campus yesterday demanding cancellation Madhabkundo-Muroichara Ecopark Project. Following the procession, the BACSP held a rally at the Aperajeo Bangla on the campus at noon.

Addressing the rally speakers, threatened to launch a tougher movement if the government does not cancel the project immediately.

Presided over by Uzzal Azim, the rally was addiessed, arnong others, by Jatan Marma, Ukkasing Marma, Barnard lujur and Seuti Khangla.

January 17, 2001 Dhaka--

(UNB) – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate a Botanical Garden and Eco-park at Sitakunda today (Wednesday).

The Botanical Garden and Eco-Park has been set up on 1,996 acres of Chandranath Hills in Sitakunda upazila at a cost of Tk 3.57 crore. Work on the five-year project started last fiscal year (1999-2000) to be completed by 2003-2004, said an official press release.

Main objective of the project is development and preservation of genetic pool of different varieties of plants, gardening and management of different varieties of bamboo, cane and herbal plants and collection and preservation of valuable plants and bio-diversity.

The project will also create scope for eco-tourism and physical infrastructure for tourists and opportunity of education and research for students and researchers.

January 18, 2001 Chittagong--

(UNB) – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated a botanical garden and eco-park at Sitakunda here with the aim to preserve genetic pool of plants and maintain ecological balance.

The botanical garden and eco-park, first of its kind in the country, has been set up on 1,996 acres of land with a panoramic view on the foot of Chandranath Hills, 35 km off the port city.

The first phase of the project cost Tk 3.57 crore while the revised project cost has been fixed at Tk 9.98 crore. The five-year project is expected to be completed by fiscal 2003-2004.

Main objective of the project is development and preservation of genetic pool of different varieties of plants, gardening and management of different varieties of bamboo, cane and herbal plants and collection and preservation of valuable plants and bio-diversity.

The project will also create scope for eco-tourism and physical infrastructure for tourists and opportunity for education and research by students and researchers.

"This eco-park will not only preserve biodiversity and different species of wildlife, but also make arrangements for eco-friendly tourism," the Prime Minister said.

She hoped that the scientists would work with for preserving and nurturing the wildlife in the hills of Chittagong by creating a gene pool.

She said the government has been implementing massive programmes for the development of environment and preserving forest resources in the country and facilitating researches in this field.

"We are also encouraging tree plantation and afforestation," she said adding the government has taken a 20-year action plan for afforestation.

Hasina mentioned some other programmes including creation of green belts around all educational institutions and rehabilitation of freedom fighters through tree plantation programme.

She said apart from Sintakunda eco-park, the government has been setting up Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Safari Park at Dulahazra in Cox’s Bazar, another eco-park at Madhutila and resort in the Gazani forest in Sherpur.

The Prime Minister said her government has formulated a nature conservation management plan for 13 reserved forests.

These are – three sanctuaries in the eastern, western and southern parts of the Sundarbans, Bhawal National Park, Madhupur National Park, Himchhari National Park, Teknaf Game Reserve, Rema-Kelenga sanctuary in Habiganj, Hajarikhil sanctuary in Chittagong, Char Kuri-Mukri sanctuary in Bhola, Nijhum Deep sanctuary in Noakhali and Companiganj wetland in Sylhet.

Besides, she said, establishment of a modern national herbarium at Mirpur Botanical Garden is another epoch-making step.

The Prime Minister said her government has introduced Forest Act 2000 amending the old act of 1927.

The Prime Minister planted saplings of Palash and Neem tree in the eco-park.

Chaired by Environment and Forest minister Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, the function was also addressed by Labour and Employment Minister MA Mannan, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Engineer Misharaf Hossain, CHT Affairs Minister Kalpa Ranjan Chakma, State Minister for Environment and Forest HN Ashiqur Rahman, Chittagong City Mayor ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, ABM Abul Kashem MP, and Environment Secretary Mamunur Rashid.

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