May 19, 2014

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Uncertainty Remains About Legality Of Regional Council

The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has still not set a date for the appeals hearing on the 2010 High Court ruling which declared the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council unconstitutional, leaving the fate of the Council unclear. 

Below is an article published by The Daily Star:

Uncertainty looms large over a ruling from the Supreme Court on the fate of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, as the lawyers concerned are yet to take steps to dispose of pending appeals on its legality.

Following two separate writ petitions, the High Court in April 2010 declared the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Regional Council illegal and unconstitutional. The court said the unitary character of the state, which is the basic feature of the constitution, has been hampered due to its formation. The council can now run since the HC verdict has been halted following a stay order from the Supreme Court.

The government and the CHT Regional Council have filed two separate appeals with the SC challenging the HC verdict, saying that the CHT Regional Council is a statutory authority to facilitate the functions of three hill district councils and was formed in line with the constitution. The provisions of the CHT Regional Council Act 1998, which have been declared unconstitutional by the HC, are actually protected by the constitution, as it provides for affirmative action in favour of a backward section of the population.   

Sara Hossain, the council's lawyer, told The Daily Star recently that the attorney general's office had to take the initiative for hearing on the appeal, as the government was the main party in the case.

 She said the council legal team was ready to place arguments before the Appellate Division of the SC in order to cancel the HC verdict. Additional Attorney General Murad Reza told The Daily Star that the Appellate Division had not fixed any date for hearing the appeals. They will place arguments before the apex court for cancelling the HC verdict when it (SC) will start hearing the appeals, he said.

Murad Reza, however, did not say whether his office would pray to the SC for fixing any date for hearing the appeals. Advocate Tajul Islam, one of the writ petitioners, said the government should take steps for hearing the appeals, as it was the main respondent to the case. Barrister Belayet Hossain, a counsel for the petitioners, said they had not taken any initiative for hearing the appeals as Abdur Razzaq, the principal counsel for the petitioners, was not in the country. Razzaq, who is set to place arguments on behalf of the writ petitioners, is now in London on personal business. But it could not be known when he will come back to the country, he said.   

Belayet said the appeals filed against the HC verdict should be heard and disposed of expeditiously since they are involved with legal and constitutional issues, political rights and developments of CHT people and ethnic groups. He said they would place arguments before the apex court for upholding the HC verdict. The hearing of the appeals was not held earlier since lawyers for the petitioners and government are busy with some other urgent cases, including the war crimes case, Belayet added.
The council has been functioning under the leadership of Santu Larma since its formation in 1999 following the signing of the historic CHT Peace Accord 1997.

Following two writ petitions filed by Bangalee settler M Badiuzzaman and the SC's pro-Jamaat-e-Islami lawyer Tajul Islam on April 13, 2010, the HC declared the CHT Regional Council Act 1998 illegal and unconstitutional. The Appellate Division on March 3, 2011 upheld the chamber judge's stay order and allowed the government and Santu Larma to move separate appeals before it against the HC verdict.