Chittagong Hill Tracts: Indigenous Peoples Closer to Eviction With New Attempt
An attempt to reinstate more than 20 plots of land leases leaves the indigenous villagers with an uncertain future, as the allotments by authorities continues.
The following press release was issued by the Kapaeeng Foundation
Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Naikhyangchari upazila (sub-district) Mr. Shaikh Saleh Ahmed is trying to reinstate 22 plots of land leases (25 acre of land each plot) which were cancelled recently as per provision of CHT Accord signed in 1997.
It is mentionable that Huge tracts of land were given lease to non-indigenous outsiders in 19980s and 1990s for rubber plantation and other commercial purposes. Around 2000 plots covering 50,000 acres of land have been given lease in three hill districts. Till today, no accurate information is available as to the exact amount of lands leased for such purposes and how these lands are being used. The Accord provides that out of the lands allotted to non-tribal and non-local persons for rubber and other plantations, the lease (allocation) in respect of the lands of those who did not undertake any project during the last ten years or did not properly utilize the lands shall be cancelled.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the CHT Affairs Ministry in its meeting at Khagrachari and Rangamati held on 20 July 2009 and 18 August 2009 respectively decided to cancel those plots which remained unutilized for more than ten years. Accordingly, as per claimed by the DC of Bandarban district, about 593 plantation plots so far have been cancelled. But to the utter frustration of the CHT people, the Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban district has recently reinstated most of the plots to the owners.
As part of the cancellation process, above-mentioned 22 plots in Naikhyangchari were cancelled in Naikhyangchari upazila. But the district and upazila administration have been trying to reinstate most of the cancelled plots through corruption.
As part of this misdeed, on 22 December 2011 the UNO of Naikhyangchari upazila Mr. Shamim called on Mr. Chata Aung, the headman of 268 no. Reju Mouza and ordered him to evict the indigenous villagers who live on the lands (with traditional ownership) of those 22 plots to be handed over to the ‘owners’ for rubber plantation within seven days, otherwise the headmanship will be snatched away and a lawsuit will be filed against the him.
Mr. Chata Aung Chakma received a written notice from Mr. Shaikh Saleh Ahmed, UNO of Naikhyangchari with reference No. 00.00.0373.201.018.2011.836 and dated 27.10.2011. In the notice, Mr. Chata Aung was asked to submit an investigative report on the status of land settlement and a report in favour of leases.
Consequently, on 20 November 2011, the indigenous villagers who were at the edge of eviction, organized a protest demonstration at Naikhyangchari Sadar and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister, State Minister of Ministry of CHT Affairs, Chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, Chairman of Bandarban Hill District Council and DC of Bandarban.
At present, the indigenous villagers of Reju Mouza in Naikhyangchari are living with the fearing of eviction.
It is also worth mentioning that allotments of land for land leases continue unabated by the authorities. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the Bandarban district continues to give hundred of acres of land in lease to the outsider non-tribal Bengali people in violation of the concerned provisions of the CHT Accord.
The DCs continue to ignore and violate the circular issued by the Land Ministry on 17 July 1989 and instruction by the CHTRC. The DCs of the three hill districts were ordered to revoke this illegal settlement, lease or transfer of land through a letter issued by the CHT Affairs Ministry on 14 October 2000. Nevertheless, the process of giving lease and settlement of land to outsiders has not been stopped. This trend still goes on unabated covertly.
Thus, the indigenous peoples in the CHT are on the verge of total eviction from their ancestral land where they have been living and cultivating Jum (traditional shifting cultivation) from generation to generation.