May 28, 2013

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Cabinet Approves Draft Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act

On the 27th of May 2013, the cabinet approved a draft of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2013 to curb the authority of the commission’s chairman. 

Below is an article published by Dhaka Tribune:

The cabinet Monday [27 May 2013] approved a draft of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission (amendment) Act 2013 to curb the authority of the commission’s chairman.

“The meeting also decided to remove the provision of preparing a guideline within six months of the law’s passage since the authorities failed to prepare the guideline to implement the law enacted in 2001,” Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after the meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

He said: “But the cabinet has decided to prepare the guidelines within the next three months. The authorities concerned have been ordered to prepare the draft and submit to the cabinet division for its approval.”

According to the proposed amendment, the authority to take a decision has been distributed among members of the commission, which was earlier entrusted solely in the hands of its chairman. Mosharraf said: “But, if the commission fails to take an unanimous decision, the opinion of the majority members including the chairman’s opinion will be accepted as final decision.”

Elaborating on the formation of a full commission, he said the five-member commission would be formed under the leadership of a retired justice of the Appellate Division. Other members of the commission will include Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong, representative of the CHT regional council chairman, chairman of the district council and the concerned circle chiefs.

According to the amendment, it is not mandatory for the circle chiefs to attend the commission meetings; instead they may send their representatives.

The cabinet secretary said the meeting decided on empowering the commission to settle land disputes about illegal leases, and land occupied by people and distributed to illegal settlers. The commission will be able to deal with the disputes under the law pertaining to the CHT.

According to the amended law, members of the ethnic minorities will be prioritised when the commission’s secretary or officials are picked.

He said: “The government has already formed a commission, but it did not function properly due to some problems. It will function actively after the amendment. It is not necessary to reorganise the commission again.”

The much-debated commission was set up in 1999, two years after the CHT Peace Accord was signed.

Justice Khademul Islam is now the chairman of the current CHT land commission. His tenure expired on July 19 last year [2012], but he will remain in office until a new chairman is appointed.

The current commission was formed in 2009, and initiated a land survey to resolve on going land disputes. But the commission chairman placed emphasis on a cadastral survey of the hill districts ignoring traditional land rights in the area - a move widely criticised and opposed by the indigenous community leaders and organisations, the Rajas of the three circles and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity - who demanded the survey should come after amendments to related laws.

Commission members also boycotted meetings due to the controversial decisions.

On May 2, 2010, the High Court asked the government to explain why an order to conduct a land survey in the CHT to stop land disputes should not be issued.

With Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury as chairperson, the CHT Peace Accord Implementation Committee on December 26, 2010 suspended all activities of the commission, including hearings on land dispute cases until the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, 2001 was amended.

The commission chairman however continued to hold hearings on dispute applications, though he was unable to resolve any issue.