Peace Accord: 17 Years on
CHT land rights still not settled
Land commission amendment bill not passed in 13 years; hill people losing land
Nearly two decades since the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, the government is nowhere near ensuring the land rights of the hill people. A key provision of the 1997 accord is to give back their land taken away from them by government and non-government actors, but it is a right that exists only on paper.
In all, some one lakh indigenous families in the three hill districts -- Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari -- had lost all or some of their lands. Of them, around 90,000 families were locally displaced during insurgency and nearly 10,000 are refugee families repatriated from India following the deal. They have yet to get back their lands. The repatriated families totalled 12,212.
Over the years, different government agencies and Bangalee settlers have occupied the homesteads and agro lands that once belonged to the Jumma people. The local administration has also leased out hundreds of acres of land to different individuals and businesses.
Indigenous leaders say the government has been dragging its feet over amending the relevant law that will empower the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission to ensure indigenous people's land rights.
“Land is the most important issue for the indigenous people. But the government is purposefully dilly-dallying over resolving the matter,” said Mangal Kumar Chakma, publication secretary of the Parbtya Chattagram Jana Sanghaty Samity (PCJSS), which signed the peace accord with the government. Instead of settling the issue, different government agencies have also continued to occupy their land, he alleged.
In 2011 alone, at least 7,118 acres of land belonging to indigenous people were grabbed by Bangalee settlers in the three hill districts, according to a 2012 report of Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST).
The ruling Awami League was in power when the deal was signed. Since then, the party has formed two more governments in 2008 and in January this year. But it has done little so far to amend the CHT Land Commission Amendment Bill 2001.
Once passed, the law will solve the issues of land ownership and land management. But the government has shelved the bill for all these years, said Mangal Chakma. Moreover, the government is now set to pass some laws that will go against the spirit of the peace accord itself, alleged other indigenous leaders.
Asked about the status of the amendment bill, chief of the House body on the land ministry Rezaul Karim Hira said he was not aware of it. The previous parliament had sent the bill to the relevant committee for scrutiny.
Under the rules, the House cannot pass any bill placed in the previous parliament. This means, the bill will have to be brought before parliament afresh. Against this backdrop, PCJSS President Santu Larma has said they would start a non-cooperation movement from May 1 next year if the treaty is not implemented by then.
STATUS OF CHT LAND
According to the Land Revenue Administration Report of 1965-66, there were 32,59,520 acres of land in the CHT. Fifty-one percent of them were declared reserve forest. Of the rest 49 percent, only 1,30,000 acres were cropland, of which 54,000 acres (40 percent) were submerged due to the Kaptai dam, constructed for hydropower project in the 1960s in Rangamati.
The project displaced about a third of the indigenous population in the district, which was the key reason for the armed conflicts in the hills. As the indigenous people started to target the security forces in the late 1970s, the government took up a programme to drastically increase Bangalee settlements there in efforts to weaken insurgency.
From 1979 to 1985, some 80,000 families from the plains were brought to the hills. Each of these families was given about 10 acres of croplands and hilly lands, indigenous leaders claim.
Most of these lands belonged to the indigenous people, suggest different studies.
The government claims it has implemented at least 48 of the 72 peace pact provisions fully and 15 partially while implementation of nine other provisions are underway.
“I would say 95 percent provisions of the peace accord have been implemented. The government is working to implement the rest within the shortest possible time,” said Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury, chief of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry.
Contacted, Naba Bikram Tripura, secretary of the ministry, said implementation of the treaty was an ongoing process. He said the ministry held a meeting yesterday on the amendment bill.
CHT Minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, Santu Larma, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Adviser Gowher Rizvi and the secretary, among others, attended the meeting.
The CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act was passed in 2001. So far, six such commissions have been formed, but none has been functional due to legal tangles.
Published: 12:02 am Tuesday, December 02, 2014
The Daily Star, 2 December 2014
Implementation of CHT Accord
U-turn by the government
Mangal Kumar Chakma
THIS year marks the passing of 17 years since signing of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, 1997 on December 2, 1997, between the Government of Bangladesh and PCJSS. Since assuming power in 2009, the Awami League-led grand alliance has not taken any step that is worth mentioning towards implementation of the core issues of the Accord.
The Awami League government (1996-2001) initially implemented a few provisions of the CHT Accord. Among them are passing of CHTRC Act and three HDC Acts in 1998, establishment of CHT Affairs Ministry, repatriation of Jumma refugees from India, and withdrawal of around 66 temporary camps (though the government claimed withdrawal of 172 camps). However, the main issues, such as preservation of tribe-inhabited feature/status of the region; introduction of special governance system in CHT with CHTRC and HDCs and devolution of powers and functions to them; resolution of land disputes; demilitarisation, etc. are yet to be implemented.
The government, including the prime minister, has been claiming that altogether 48 out of 72 sections of the CHT Accord have been implemented in the meantime and 15 sections out of the rest have been partially implemented while the remaining 9 sections are under implementation process. This is not fully accurate. As per observation of PCJSS, only 25 sections out of 72 sections of the CHT Accord have been implemented so far. Thirty four sections of the Accord still remain totally unimplemented while 13 sections have been partially implemented. This means that two-third of the sections of the Accord have been unimplemented as of this day.
For instance, analysis of Sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 under Part-A of the Accord, which the government says have already been implemented, disproves the government's claim. Section-1 of the Accord stipulates: ”Both the parties, having considered the CHT region as a tribe-inhabited region, recognised the need of preserving special features of this region and attaining the overall development thereof.” But this aspect still remains confined to the papers. No legal or effective safeguard measures have so far been taken to preserve or restore the tribe-inhabited feature of the region. No office order, directive or notification to that effect has been passed by the government. As a result, unabated migration of outsiders into CHT is taking place through different ways and means, which has led to the loss of the very tribal-inhabited feature of the region.
The government, on the one hand, has been dilly-dallying in implementing the core issues of the CHT Accord, while formulating anti-accord laws and programmes on the other. For instance, without holding elections in the three HDCs and CHTRC and contrary to the opinion of the CHT people, the government, on November 23, 2014, amended three HDC Acts by increasing the numerical strength of the members of three interim HDCs from 5 to 15, including the chairman. Before signing of the CHT Accord, though the tenure of HDCs had already expired, the successive governments did not take any initiative to hold elections for these councils during the last 22 years. No initiative has yet been undertaken to formulate Election Rules of chairmen and members of the HDCs and Electoral Roll Rules for the purpose. The 5-member interim HDCs formed with the ruling party members have been functioning in an undemocratic way. In fact, these nominated interim HDCs work without any obligation and accountability to the people. Instead of holding elections for these institutions, the government has recently amended the laws of these councils to run the HDCs in an unfair manner. The main objective of making amendments to the three HDC Acts seems to be to by-pass the elections for the CHT institutions and deprive the CHT people from their political rights to franchise and access to representation and, above all, to shelve the implementation of the CHT Accord tactfully.
Unlike prompt amendment of three HDC Acts, which was made within six months, amendment of CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 has been kept pending for 13 years, including 6 years of the grand alliance government. This law was passed in 2001 without consultation with or advice from CHTRC, hence, several issues contravening CHT Accord were included in it. When the present government was formed in January 2009, the CHTRC once again sent its recommendations to it for bringing amendment to this law. After a series of meetings, CHT Affairs Ministry, in consultation with CHTRC, finalised 13-point amendment proposals for amendment of the Act, which was also endorsed by CHT Accord Implementation Committee. But the government has been delaying in amending the law as per the 13-point recommendations. Due to non-resolution of land-related disputes in the CHT, ethnic conflicts and forcible occupation of lands belonging to the indigenous Jummas continue.
The prompt amendment of HDC Acts on one hand and delay in amendment of Land Commission Act year after year on the other, make it look as if the government is not sincere about implementing the Accord fully. While CHTRC Complex Project has been kept pending ever since the formation of the apex body of CHT special administrative setup in 1999, the selection of sites for establishing medical college and science and technology unversity is another instance of the government's confusing policy in implementing the CHT Accord. The government is keen to rehabilitate the poor people through Ashrayan Project in CHT while measures for rehabilitation of internally displaced Jumma families have not been taken in the last 17 years, though it is one of the obligations stipulated in the CHT Accord.
In fact, there cannot be any alternative to implementation of CHT Accord for ensuring proper political solution to the longstanding crisis and establishing peace in CHT. CHT people urge the government for a speedy resolution by drawing up a time-bound roadmap of the implementation process of the Accord in order to ascertain good governance and pro-people and environmentally balanced development in CHT, thereby ensuring peace and all-round development in the region.
The writer is Information and Publicity Secretary of PCJSS.
Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, December 02, 2014
More article in Bangla:
Daily Prothom Alo: http://www.prothom-alo.com/
Daily Samakal: http://www.samakal.net/2014/