I disagree with the Prothom Alo editorial of 28 August, 2010 (http://www.prothom-alo.com/detail/date/2010-08-28/news/89910) that supports the idea of a land survey of undisputed land in the CHT.
A survey effectively amounts to a "trial by amin, kanungoes and surveyors", based upon plains Bangladesh concepts of private ownership on former zamindary estates, which have little or no room for (oral tradition) "customs and usages".
The collective memory of people - particularly hill people - in the CHT of bias, corruption and unfair treatment by survey officials is still fresh. Therefore, there is every reason to resist any attempts to conduct a land survey in the CHT until and unless the terms of reference (TOR) for such survey categorically and unequivocally gives due regard to customary law-based rights of indigenous individuals, communities and peoples. Since no such TOR based upon the concerned laws (including the CHT Regulation, 1900 and the Hill District Council Acts of 1989) have so far been framed, it is safe to assume that the survey would follow plain land concepts of survey, record of rights and so forth, in the process denying proper acknowledgment of custom-based rights of the hill peoples.
If a land survey were conducted before the Commission resolves the disputes appearing before it, it would be tantamount to the commission divesting its responsibilities of dispute resolution, because, until and unless evidence to the contrary was available to rebut the findings and other records of the survey, such findings and records would remain unchallenged and established. If the CHT people felt they could get justice at the hands of survey officials there would be no need for a commission to be formed that included a retired Supreme Court judge, chairpersons of the regional and district councils and circle chiefs.
The Accord provides for such a commission and categorically states that any land survey, if conducted, should be done on the basis of advice from the Regional Council, and only AFTER the rehabilitation of India-returned Jumma refugees, rehabilitation of internally displaced people, resolution of land disputes and grant of two acres of land to landless hillpeople.
Therefore, we should continue to resist any moves for a land survey on all CHT lands. If data and statistics on the physical properties of the CHT land and other natural resources are required, that can be done using modern GIS and other techniques, but only after the three HDCs are able to formulate policies in consultation with the chiefs, headmen and other members of CHT society, under the guidance of the CHT Regional Council.
Raja Devasish Roy
29 August, 2010