Mar 23, 2010

Chittagong Hill Tracts: CHT Commission Censures Chairman

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The unilateral decision about settling land disputes taken by the CHT Chairman is unacceptable to the parties involved.

Below is an article published in New Age:

Members on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission have censured the unilateral decision of the commission chairman to invite applications for settling disputes over land ownership in the three hill districts.

The members on the commission and ethnic minorities in the three hill districts prefer an amendment to the land commission law 2001 first and then inviting applications for settling disputes and finally conducting a cadastral survey.

Two political parties of the hill people – the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, with which the state signed a peace accord 1997, and the United People’s Democratic Front – have rejected as ‘unacceptable’ the public notice of the land commission inviting applications. They said such a move would likely to make the situation more complicated instead of resolving the disputes.

The commission secretary M Abdul Hamid issued the public notice on March 17 inviting applications from refugees to settle land disputes in the hill region. Applications could be submitted to the head office of the commission in Khagrachari district as well as at the offices of Bandarban and Rangamati deputy commissioners in next 60 days and no application would be received after the deadline.

Although the land commission has invited applications, its officials are yet to begin attending office regularly and the office housed in a rest house of roads and highways department was yet to be furnished. Some class III and class IV employees have been appointed and they are idling their time away, New Age found.

The chairman of CHT regional council Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, who is also a member of the commission, expressed his reservations about the commission’s ‘unilateral’ decision before amending the contradictory law of 2001.

Ruithi Karbari, chairman of Khagrachari district council and also member on the land commission, also expressed dissatisfaction. ‘We know nothing about the public notice. The chairman is doing things unilaterally and does not seem to care about consulting us,’ he said. ‘Only a single meeting has been held and no such things were discussed in it,’ he said. ‘We want to see the commission functioning. Non-functioning of the commission is mainly responsible for the recurrence of ethnic violence in the hills. But if we are not invited to meetings, how could we contribute to it?’ he said.

The president of the United People’s Democratic Front, Prasit Bikash Khisha, has asked the government to enact laws to safeguard the hill people’s right to land and to settle all land disputes in the hill districts in keeping with the laws.

He rejected the government’s inviting applications from the aggrieved persons for settlement of land disputes and branded the move ‘an attempt to put the cart before the horse.’ ‘The government has to set a baseline to settle the disputes. Laws or policy guidelines must be framed before adjudication of disputes,’ he said.

‘If the disputes are settled in keeping with the existing laws, most of the hill people will be deprived of their land as they have no documents or title deeds although they are real owners of the land according to customary land rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts,’ he said.

Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti publicity secretary Mangal Kumar Chakma said the commission chairman’s unilateral move would make the situation more complicated instead of settling the land disputes.

The party asked the commission to withdraw the public notice and called for amending the land commission act of 2001 and taking initiatives to resolve the land disputes through proper procedure.

Both the PCJSS and UPDF also questioned the commission’s plan for conducing a cadastral survey of CHT lands.

Neither the commission chairman nor the secretary was available for comments.

Since the formation of the Land Commission in 1998 in line with the terms of the treaty, three retired judges served as its chairmen until December 2007 but could hardly make any visible progress in settling the land disputes.

The Land Commission – with a retired judge as its head and also comprising the chairman of the CHT regional council or his representative, the three circle chiefs, chairmen of the three hill district councils, and the divisional commissioner or his representative as the members – held only one meeting in the first eight years of its life.