Bamnir Beel reels under pressure of the landless

Half of the age-old wetland already reclaimed for cultivation

By Morshed Ali Khan, back from Rangpur


Rich in bio-diversity, the age-old Bamnir Beel at Pachgachi Union under Pirganj Thana is threatened by around 400 landless families, who have already converted about half of this khas wetland into cultivable land for their own survival.

What still remains of Bamnir Beel is about 100 acres of water body, home to thousands of rare species of aquatic plants, fishes, birds, insects and other animals.

Such is the pressure of population, especially that of the landless, that the whole of Bamnir Beel could be reclaimed for cultivation in near future, fear environmentalists.

At present, the landless peasants are in possession of 68 acres of the wetland under a lease procured from the Deputy Commissioner’s office in 1986. Experts at the International Union for Conservation of the wetland will destroy the ecosystem of the entire area.

However, an environmentally and economically sustainable plan can easily be chalked out to preserve the wetland in its present character, Shubhashish Priya Barua, an assistant programme officer of IUCN in Dhaka said.

If there is no wetland, the peasants will be dependent solely on agricultural outputs for living, he explained, "The land will eventually lose fertility and because of their dependency on a single produce. Eventually, the farmers will be unable to get good prices for their harvest.

During the dry season one third of the beel could be cultivated and the remaining should be left as it is. This would help the fishes and plants to survive for the rainy season.

If the wetland dries up naturally during the dry season, the blood fishes would survive for regeneration during the rainy season. If the water is drained out artificially, the sanctuary for brood fishes will be disturbed and chances of survival would be very slim.

These wetlands provide the villagers with so much protein and the plants could be used in various medicinal purposes. In fact, preserving such wetlands could be much more profitable than converting them into arable land.

The wetland is natural sanctuary for migratory birds, if you convert it you will be losing the winged guests forever.

The beel is blessed with the total range of local fishes here and if we can protect them for regeneration, we won’t have to depend on alien species which deplete natural fish feeds very quickly and cause damage to the nature."

Meanwhile, the landless peasants, who are in possession of the Bamnir Beel, said that they had applied to the government to hand them over the public property.

They want the authorities to officially change the character of the wetland into an agricultural land. They also said that they had submitted a prayer to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for cancellation of the Bamnir Beel Drainage Project, taken up by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED). The LGED sources in Dhaka, however, said that as the TK 17 lakh project was opposed by more than 55 per cent of the local people, they had already put it on hold.

Ashraf Ali, one of the landless peasants of Bamnir Beel said, that the land retrieved from the wetland was extremely fertile and needed little ploughing. But he said that the government should not entirely convert the wetland into agricultural land.

"There are a number of fishermen amongst us who could benefit from the wetland which is home to innumerable varieties of local fishes." He said.

But conversion of the wetland into agricultural land still remains a far cry although half of it has already been used up. While the Deputy Commissioner’s office stays oblivious about the social and environmental consequences, they have nonetheless leased out 36 wetlands in the district for agricultural purpose.

The DC of Rangpur, Mozammel Haque said they were only leasing out wetlands to trained people in fisheries, but his office sources said all the wetlands in the district were being converted into agricultural lands.

Saidur Rahman, AC land of Pirganj Thana, said that as far as his documents were concerned Bamnir Beel remained a protected wetland. He said he could not find any authenticity of the claim of the landless farmers that they had obtained a lease.

"In the cadestral survey between 1928 and 1942 these wetlands were designated as ‘protected’ areas. To convert them into agricultural land is going to be a long procedure." Rahman said.

"Land management is in a shambles because lower-level officials in the tahshildar offices keep defying normal procedures and allocating khas lands to whomever they wished," revealed Rahman.


Source: The Daily Star,Wednesday, January 3, 2001