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Modhupur Sal forest and the Protection of Forest Rights, Bangladesh

Denial of rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities, use of forest land for non-forest purposes, and commercial plantation in the natural Sal Forest have given rise to deadly conflicts


The tropical moist deciduous Sal Forest of Bangladesh that once extended from Dinajpur in the north to the extreme edge of Comilla, straddling the central region of Gazipur, Tangail, Mymensing and Dhaka spreading around 78199.80 hectars of land is almost gone now. Currently only 10% of the Sal Forests have Sal trees (scientific name Shorea robusta) with small patches in Dinajpur, Tangail, Mymensing and Dhaka districts. Among the existing patches of the Sal forest, the Sal Forest of Modhupur officially occupies around 18615.54 hectars. This forest extends from the Charaljani mouja to Rasulpur mouja from north to south and from Sholakuri mouja to Mahishmara mouja from east to west. The Government attempted to give the Forest different legal status as that of Reserve Forest and National Park under the Forest Act, 1927 and the Wild Life Protection Order, 1973 (now repealed) respectively.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Modhupur Sal forest and the Protection of Forest Rights, Bangladesh
State or province:N/A
Location of conflict:District of Tangail
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Deforestation
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific commodities:Rubber
Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

The areas under conflict include the following moujas (land administrative units) Chunia, Beribaid, Aushnara, Holdia, Mohishmara, Joinatoil, Betbari, Idilpur, Pirojpur, Ramkrishnobari, Laufola, Fulbagicha, Sholakuri, Joramgachha, Pirgachha, Arankhola, Chapaid, Gachhabari, Rasulpur, and Bijoypur While the indigenous forest dwellers have always opposed the initiatives of the government to bring the said forested moujas under their control in the name of protected area management due to non- settlement of their rights, the national level environmental advocates never welcomed such initiatives as the same only increase the control of the Forest Department control over the Forest land without imposing any duties on them for protecting the Forest in its natural state.

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Project area:18,615.54
Level of Investment:Not Applicable
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:63 thousand forest dwellers directly; 160 million people of the country indirectly
Start of the conflict:24/02/1982
Relevant government actors:Ministries of Environment and Forest; Ministry of Land; Department of Forests; Department of Environment; Deputy Commissioner, Tangail; Additional Deputy Commissioner (Rev), Tangail; Upazilla Revenue Officer, Upazila Chairman, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, Modhupur, Tangail; Assistant Commissioner (Land), Modhupur, Tangail; District Forest Officer, Tangail.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA)
Joyenshahi Adivashi Unnayan Parishad
Jatiya Adhibasi Parishad
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Tribal communities of Garo and Kontch who are indigenous to the forest
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Genetic contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impacts The problem has led to alarming shrinkage of natural Sal Forest
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsThe loss of traditional species has resulted in limited access to traditional health care.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsLoss of indigenous culture and heritage
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Two tribal protestors named Piren Slane and Cholesh Richil died during protests against forced attempt of the government to implement the eco-park project
Development of alternatives:A Writ Petition No. 1834 of 2010 has been filed with the High Court division specifically challenging the inactions, misdeeds, and arbitrary projects/ notifications of the Government and the Forest Department having bearing on the commercialization of the Forest and denial of the rights of the forest dwellers. The petitioners pleaded alternative management under Section 28 (Village Forests) of the Forest Act, 1927 that has strong elements of community forest management. On 16th March, 2010 the Court required all government agencies to show cause as to why they shall not be directed to-
- Correctly identify the borders of the Modhupur Sal Forest;
- Frame rules on village forestry as required under Section 28 of the Forest Act 1927 and ensure regeneration of the Modhupur Sal Forest through protection and enrichment plantation with indigenous species and with directed participation of the forest dependent people is envisaged in Section 28 of the Forest Act, 1927;
- Settle the rights of the member of the Garo and Kontch community who are indigenous forest dwellers of the Modhupur Sal Forest in accordance with section 92 of the SAT and following sections 6-19 of the Forest Act, 1927;
- Remove all unauthorized and illegal industrial/commercial entitles from the Modhupur Sal Forest;
- Stop commercial Banana/Pineapple plantation (without affecting the traditional cultivation of the tribal People) and other commercial plantations in the Modhupur Sal Forest;
- In the case of areas covered under social forestry agreements, undertake appropriate measures to gradually regenerate native forest in the said areas after the expiry of the existing agreements and/or such other further order or orders passed as to this Court may seem fit and proper.
Subsequently, on 19 January, 2012, the Court directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest to submit before the Court a comprehensive dossier with details of all forest dependent people and suggest measures on how to protect the Forest, its trees and the forest dependent people. As the Government didn’t respond to the show causes notices of the Court and went ahead in issuing the notification dated 31 March, 2016 declaring 3700.878 hectars of Forest land as reserve, once again without settling people’s rights, another notice was issued on the government agencies by the Court on 23 August, 2017 to show cause as to why this notification shall not be declared illegal and shall not be set aside.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:In declaring part of the forest as reserve forest and in attempting to bring the area under government's control denying rights of forest dwelling tribal people, the government has clearly ignored the spirit of the show cause notice issued from the High Court. final decision will come from the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Although the legal battle is on to get the subsequent notification declared illegal, the same is being stiffly defended by the government during hearing. The hearing is also going lengthy due to the delay tactics taken by the government. Fate of the legal battle, the forest and the forest dwelling community will be decided by the final verdict of the Court and its implementation.
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Articles 15, 18A, 21, 31, 32, 40 and 42 of the Constitution of Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh
[click to view]

the Forest Act, 1927
[click to view]

the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997
[click to view]

the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950
[click to view]

the Forestry Sector Master Plan, 1993-2012
[click to view]

the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 (Act No. 1 of 1995)
[click to view]

the Forest Policy, 1994
[click to view]

the Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1973 (repealed)
[click to view]

Wildlife (Conservation & Forest) Act, 2012
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

A Study On The Legal Status Of The Mandi People's Land Rights in Modhupur Forest Area. Written by: Fazlous Sattar and Bangladesh Land Forest & Forest People. Published by: Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Sal Forest, Modhupur, Tangail
[click to view]

Other documents

Sal Forest Pictures Modhupur, Tangail
[click to view]

Judgment Judgment of Sal Forest, Modhupur, Tangail
[click to view]

[click to view]

[click to view]

Map Sal Forest
[click to view]

Sal Forest Pictures Sal being replaced for cultivation of banana at a commercial scale
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), [email protected]
Last update14/01/2019
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