Sundarban faces new threat from charcoal business

Saving the endangered Sundarban is facing a new challenge from poachers who chop down and burn its trees to sell charcoal to brickfields dodging the police dragnet.
Local people said that poachers have been doing it for three years until the Coast Guard found out what they were doing.
The Coast Guard with support from the Bagerhat district police and forest personnel in a joint raid seized 20,000 kilograms of wood illegally extracted from Sundarbans from two ovens at Tafalbari, in Sarankhola upazila about five kilometres from Sundarbans on August 15, forest officers said.
Local people said that poachers made money out of wood from the Sundarbans while the relevant agencies of the government looked the other way.
They made it a lucrative business to illegally chop down and burn Sundari, Dhundal and Bain trees of the Sundarbans and sell charcoal in connivance of
forest department personnel due to the increasing difficulty in removing logs from the endangered mangrove forest.
They said that many people make money by selling charcoal to brick field owners.
It became a thriving business, they said.
They alleged that enjoying protection from the locally influential, the traders set up at least 30 ovens in several villages in Sarankhola upazila in Begerhat district, adjacent to the Sundarbans without caring to obtain permission from the authorities.
The devious practice to make money bending the law came to the notice of the Coast Guard in August this year although the trade had apparently been going on for about three years, local people as well sources in the forest department told New Age.
Depending on its size an oven can burn between 800 kg to 4000 kg of wood a day, they said.
No permission was given by the Bagerhat district administration, the police, the forest department or the divisional office of the environment department at Khulna to set up the ovens to make charcoal, said officers.
No owner, they said, ever came to seek permission either.
Local people and some forest personnel said, the poachers bring the wood to the ovens at night and burn them immediately to keep the law enforcers clueless about burning wood stolen from the Sundarbans.
The oven owners keep samples of firewood available outside the Sundarbans to show these to law enforcers if they demand to know from where they got it, said an oven worker near Sonatala Model Bazaar of Sarankhola upazila who preferred anonymity. The bazaar is within one kilometer of the forest.
Making charcoal by burning woof from the Sundarbans has been going on for three years, he said.
“The charcoal is sent to brickfields in different southern districts by trucks or by engine-boats and river trawlers.
The detective branch of Bagarhat police with the help of Sarankhola police station and the forest department seized 260 sacks of charcoal from a truck as it was crossing the Begerhat district town on Khulna-Bagerhat highway on October 11 night and arrested Rafiqul Hawlader, the truck driver and helper Abu Saleq, they said.
On the following day, the law enforcers, on a tip from the driver and helper, seized 12,000 kgs of Sundarban wood and 2400 kgs of charcoal from Tafalbari and 56,000 kgs of Sundarban wood and 120,000 kgs of charcoal from Dhansagar, a village in Sarankhola upazila.
Local people said that the law enforcers destroyed 19 ovens at Tafalbaria and Dhansagar on October 13.
The Conservator of the Forest in Khulna circle Md Akbor Ali told New Age that the remaining ovens would be destroyed soon.
The ovens are also a public health concern.
‘While the wood is burnt, smoke from the ovens having no chimney engulfs the nearby area, polluting the weather and causing health hazard to the people, especially to the children, women and senior citizens’ said a member of the local elite Farid Khan Mintu.
‘While smoke covers the area, all of us suffer from eye irritation’ Mintu said.
‘I have a good many number of patients, especially children, women and old people from remote villages, suffering from eye irritation, cough and asthma’ said Sarankhola upazila health complex residential medical officer Dr Bodiuzzaman Russel.
The ailments, he said, were caused by the smoke.
The Forest Conservator said, ‘So far as I know, none of the ovens has a certificate to make charcoal.’
He said that action would be taken against forest department employees found to have been involved in illegally allowing Sundarban wood to make charcoal.


Courtesy of NewAge

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