Academy plan threatens protected forest in Bangladesh

Activists say civil service training center in Cox's Bazar would be disastrous for the environment
Academy plan threatens protected forest in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugee children play inside a natural birch forest along a beach in Cox's Bazar in this 2014 file photo. Environmental activists are opposing Bangladesh government’s plan to build a civil service academy on 700 acres of protected forest in Cox’s Bazar. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)  

Environmental groups and church officials have criticized a government plan to establish an academy in an ecologically critical forest zone in Cox’s Bazar district of southeast Bangladesh.

The Public Administration Ministry is seeking 700 acres of protected forest land in Shuknachhari to build a civil service academy.

The proposed Bangabandhu Civil Service Academy, named after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding leader and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, would offer specialized training and skill enhancement to newly recruited civil servants.

“The proposed plan is at the primary stage. All will depend on whether it gets clearance from the environment department. If not, the plan should be changed,” Kamal Uddin, the chief government officer in Cox’s Bazar, told ucanews.com.

Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, chief conservator of forests, declined to comment on the matter to ucanews.com.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s most popular tourist destination thanks to its long, pristine beaches and lush green natural forests and hills, has seen a huge loss of forest in recent times.

The massive influx of Rohingya Muslims in 2017 due to a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar forced Bangladeshi authorities to raze about 6,000 acres of forest to build refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar to accommodate about one million Rohingya.

Activists see the academy plan as a mortal threat to the environment.

“The sad thing is that we defy environmental concerns when we think about development. The government should refrain from going ahead with the plan as it poses danger for the environment,” Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, told ucanews.com.

Ibrahim Khalil, president of the Youth Environment Society, a Cox’s Bazar-based advocacy group, has similar misgivings.

“For years, nature and wildlife have faced threats from businesses making money from tourists, and the Rohingya influx has gobbled up a vast area. Now, the proposed academy in an ecologically critical area would be fatal for the environment and wildlife in Cox’s Bazar,” he said.

Kamal Hossain, a researcher and professor at the Institute of Forests and Environmental Sciences at Chittagong University, was also critical of the plan.

“The forest and its resources in Cox’s Bazar have shrunk to danger levels over the years due to businesses, a power plant and the Rohingya influx. The forest cannot withstand or recover from further loss of resources anymore,” Hossain told ucanews.com.

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