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There is no grand plan initiative around Ratargul

Goainghat upazila administration of Sylhet took the initiative to make a master plan two years ago to bring Ratargul Jalaban (Swamp Forest) under planned management. At that time, the teachers of Shahjalal Science and Technology University were also said to be associated with it. But the work has not yet started according to that plan. And the officials of the forest department say that they do not know anything about such a master plan.

In such a situation, the ‘International Forest Day’ will be observed on Tuesday. On the occasion of the day, a discussion meeting has been organized at the initiative of Sylhet Divisional Forest Department. The meeting will be held at Sylhet District Commissioner’s conference room at 10:30 am. Deputy Commissioner will preside over the meeting. Mujibur Rahman.

Ashraful Kabir, coordinator of the environmental organization Bhumisantan Bangladesh, said that Ratargul forest is not a tourist center. Environmentalist organizations including Bhoomisantan Bangladesh have been demanding to make a master plan including declaring the Ratargul forest as a protected forest from the beginning. But it has repeatedly been marked by reluctance and incoordination.

There are various rare species of animals in the forest. Environmentalists want tourists not to harm wildlife or destroy normal life. Apart from this, the use of musical instruments and loud noises should be stopped in the forest. No plastic or other garbage can be thrown inside the forest.

Visiting the Ratargul forest recently saw the movement of guest birds in the forest. Although the water level inside the forest is less, there are boat routes. There are more than half a hundred boats at the three forest ghats—Chowrangi, Chowmuhani (Ratargul village) and Motorghat. The traffic of tourists was also noticeable. According to local people, thousands of tourists visit Ratargul every day during the tourism season.

Jaber Wahid, who came from Narayanganj to Chaumuhani Ghat, said that after entering the forest, he felt very happy to see the natural environment. But there are no facilities for tourists. There are no toilets outside. Although they have to pay a government fee of 60 rupees to enter the forest.

According to Goainghat upazila administration sources, the Ratargul reservoir located in Fatepur union was declared protected in 1973 by the forest department. This area of 504.50 acres surrounded by rivers and streams was largely unknown to nature lovers.

Since 2012, many people started visiting this area. Ignoring the objections of environmentalists, the forest department installed a 50 feet high ‘watch tower’ in Ratargul forest in 2014. From the beginning, the environmentalists had been demanding that no brick or stone structures should be built in Ratargul forest.

A CMC committee was formed in 2016 with local people for forest management at the initiative of the forest department. And the upazila tourism committee keeps an eye on the tourists who come at night. For nearly two years, the forest department has been charging a fixed fee from tourists to visit the forest. Currently, tourists have to pay 57 taka 50 paisa per person to enter the forest. An average of about 80 lakh taka is collected annually from government fees for forest entry.

Upazila administration sources also said that in 2021, an initiative was taken to make a master plan for Ratargul forest with the teachers of three departments of Shahjalal Science and Technology University. At that time, the teachers visited the forest and said that it is not possible to save the ratargul, which is famous for wetlands, if it is not brought under planned management. But after that the matter did not progress.

Goainghat Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) and President of Upazila Tourism Committee Tahmilur Rahman said that although initiatives have been taken to adopt the master plan, it has not progressed. The main reason for this is non-reorganization of Forest Local Management Committee (CMC). Apart from this, according to the policy, 50 percent of the locally collected revenue should be returned. They were not found. As a result, the master plan did not progress at all. The CMC Committee is organized through the Forest Department. If the forest department does not form the committee, the upazila administration or the tourism committee will not be able to do it.

In this regard Sylhet divisional forest officer said. Taufiqul Islam said, nothing has been informed about the master plan to the forest department. According to the policy, 50 percent of the collected revenue should be proposed and approved by the Ministry of Finance regarding spending on development work.

Their documents have been provided by the Forest Department. Recently an initiative has been taken to reorganize the CMC committee.