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Protection of Khasi Villages Overturned by Court Order

March 19th, 2010

Joseph Gomes in the SylhetA January victory by the Khasi people in stopping logging on their lands has been overturned by a High Court decision issued in late February. Four indigenous villages in Bangladesh, with their 500 Khasi residents, will be destroyed if logging by a local tea estate owner is allowed to continue.

An Oblate priest, Fr. Joseph Gomes, OMI, along with other colleagues from the environmental community have been working with the Khasi people to protect the forest and their villages. We urge all parties in a position to do so, to raise serious concerns with the Government of Bangladesh regarding this situation.

Two years ago, four thousand trees were chopped down on lands traditionally controlled by the Khasi people of the Sylhet region of north eastern Bangladesh. The owner of a local Tea Estate was initially granted permission by the government to cut the trees. But the logging created serious ecological damage, and threatened the very existence of the Khasi inhabitants of the four villages. The indigenous communities organized against the logging and protested vigorously. For the Khasi, trees are essential for Pan (betel leaf) cultivation, their only livelihood. The Khasis still do not have clear title to their lands, leaving them vulnerable to this sort of exercise of power.

In a huge victory for the Khasis, the local Deputy Commissioner decided in early January that no more trees may be cut from any Khasi Punji (indigenous village) in the area. This victory, that would have saved many villages and thousands of trees on the Tripura Border with India, has been short-lived. In response to a case filed by the Tea estate owner, the Bangladesh High Court in late February over-turned the decision to stop the logging.

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