CHT Accord and Installation of APBn Camp

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Mangal Kumar Chakma

Dipankar Talukdar, Member of the Parliament (MP) of 299-Parbatya Rangamati constituency, while taking part in the discussion on Budget of FY-2022-23 during the 18th session of Jatiya Sangsad on 16 June said, “Nowhere mentioned in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord that police cannot be deployed at the army withdrawn camp sites.”

In a sense, Dipankar Talukdar has spoken truth on deployment of Armed Police Battalion (APBn) during his speech in the house. But he has not mentioned, even a single word, on bigger truths already contained in the Accord. Mr. MP has not, for a mistake sake, mentioned the provisions contained in the Accord as to what would be done with the lands abandoned by the army camps or to whom those lands would have to be handed over; how the Police Force in CHT would be organized; under jurisdiction of which authority the law & order would have to remain with, etc.

In his speech, Mr. MP has been very tactful to veer away the provisions lying under Section 17(b) of Part ‘D’ of the Accord wherein mentioned that the lands of camps abandoned by military and para-military forces would be returned to the actual owners or handed over to the Hill District Councils (HDCs) concerned. The provision leaves no space by merit of which any force can be stationed as a replacement. Indeed, Mr. MP has been in an effort to send a wrong and confusing information to the country people by tactfully keeping those provisions of the Accord in the dark.

He also said that the CHT Accord stipulates withdrawal of the “unnecessary camps”. In fact, the Accord says that “all temporary camps of the Army, Ansar and VDPs” shall be taken back to permanent cantonments. Mr. Talukder’s explanation shows how the ruling dignitaries is distorting, fabricating and misinterpreting the CHT Accord to their advantage.

On the other side, as per Section 34(b) and Section 33(a) of Part ‘B’ of the Accord, the subjects of ‘Police (Local)’ and ‘Preservation and Development of Law & Order’ respectively are to be devolved to the three HDCs and as per Section 24(a), the Sub-Inspector of Hill District Police and all the members ranking below are to be appointed by the Councils as per its regulations and prescribed procedure.

Following appointment of Abul Hasnat Abdullah MP, as Convener of CHT Accord Implementation Committee in January 2018, decisions taken in the first four meetings out of five held so far, include: to transfer the subjects of ‘Police (Local)’ and‘Preservation and Development of Law &Order’ to the three HDCs; to withdraw the all temporary camps and to form the Hill District Police Force as per the three HDC Acts. Worthy to be mentioned that no decision was taken in the Accord Implementation Committee meetings to set up armed police camps in places of temporary camps abandoned by the army.

Instead of implementing the decisions taken in the first four meetings of the Accord Implementation Committee and raising an argument justifying implementation of the decision of proposals taken in the 5th meeting, instructions were issued to set up an ABPn camp on the site of the withdrawn army camp from the APBn Headquarters on 13 April 2022 while disgracing the provisions of the Accord. Even without returning those lands to the actual owners or handing them over to the concerned HDCs, signboards have been erected in those sites mentioning ‘designated place for security forces’ and categorically forbidding ‘construction of any other structure with stern warning of being a punishable offence.’Furthermore, threatening is being given to the families living in those sites to leave their homesteads and go to other places.

Despite being so, the MP of Rangamati constituency, having the issues concealed, has delivered one-sided speech in the house by saying there is no bindings prohibiting deployment of APBn. It is very agonizing that he is never seen to be vocal to hold high in the house or in any other meetings on the rights defined in and the unimplemented issues of the Accord as much as the way and extent he is seen becoming vocal on those issues not mentioned in the Accord.

When it comes to discuss on issues of implementation of the Accord or the CHT situation, the ruling party gets the issue development coated or wrapped in terrorism and extortion and then the country people are set to view it through the law & order spectacles.In reality, the CHT crisis is neither economic (development) nor of law & order problem. CHT crisis is a political and national problem, which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned during many of her speeches. It has been for this reason the CHT Accord was signed in 1997 to resolve the problem by political and peaceful means and to preserve the tribal-inhabited feature of the region. Indeed, such has been the core spirit of the CHT Accord.

It is based on this spirit, under Part ‘B’ and Part ‘C’ of the Accord the provisions confer introduction of the special administrative system of CHT incorporating CHT Regional Council (CHTRC) and three HDCs and to devolve the political, administrative and economic powers and functions including general administration, police, law &order, land &land management, forest and environment and all development programs.

It is true that the CHTRC and HDCs have been constituted, but the said jurisdiction of administrative and economic powers and functions have not yet been transferred to these Councils. Even elections have not been held in these Councils after having prepared the Electoral Roll enumerating only with the permanent residents of the three hill districts. In addition, the definition of ‘non-tribal (Bengali) permanent residents’ has been determined in the Accord and to that end provision has also been made by merit of which issuing authority as Permanent Resident Certificate has been entrusted to the Circle Chiefs. But the Deputy Commissioners of hill districts have been entrusted with this jurisdiction and function violating the terms of Accord. It is due to not having the core issues of the Accord properly implemented, in one end, as the political solution to the crisis has not been attained so the self-governance system of the hill residents in coordination with the CHTRC and HDCs could not have been developed.

Besides, the provisions under Part ‘D’ of the Accord include: to return the dispossessed lands of the Jumma people after resolution of land disputes through Land Commission and cancel all the leases given to outsiders; to rehabilitate the India-returnee and internally displaced Jumma families in their lands after having returned to them; to withdraw all the temporary camps of security forces including the ‘Operation Uttoron’; to appoint the permanent residents in all the jobs available in CHT prioritizing the Jumma people, etc. On the other hand, in the unwritten agreement, decisions to relocate the Bengali settlers outside CHT was also taken. But all the aforesaid issues have either been left stranded after partial implementation or are being trampled at completely unimplemented state.

At present, the heart-felt demand of the permanent residents of CHT irrespective of Jumma and Bengali people is proper, speedy and full implementation of the Accord. Whereas, as the representative of Rangamati constituency, Mr. Talukdar did not come up vocal in his speech on this heart-felt demand. Rather he had an effort to direct the demand of hill residents to different course by raising irrelevant issues, as unnecessarily mentioning those issues are not stipulated in the CHT Accord.

Law and Order meetings are often held on part of the government in the name of solving the CHT crisis in the region. In all such meetings, the mass demand of CHT Accord implementation is slipped under the carpet while widely holding up the issues of terrorism, extortion and conflict in CHT. In this kind of meetings, instead of prioritizing the implementation of the Accord, threatening of stern actions is pronounced against the organizations and right-seeking Jumma people who are engaged in the movement, fictitiously alleging them to have involved in terrorist activities.

Exact reflection of the same has been found in the high-level Law & Order meeting on 25 May and inauguration of Regional Office of APBn on 26 May held in Rangamati. In the meeting, an influential military bureaucrat said that out of the 72 sections of the Accord, there were only 2 sections for the PCJSS to implement at its level. But the PCJSS members did not deposit all of their arms and ammunition and all members did not surrender – he alleged. Whereas, the progress report on implementation of the Accord published by the Ministry of CHT Affairs clearly mentioned the said two sections to have been ‘completely implemented’. The allegation as such indicates that the ghost abides inside the mastered seed.

Thus, how the government failure in implementation of the Accord is covered or in place of prioritizing the political solution to the crisis through implementation of the Accord, quite purposefully, the issue of terrorism, extortion and conflict is focused in front of the country people through holding public meetings, law & order meetings or in the Jatiya Sangsad by the ruling figures; and brought forth the rationality of establishing APBn or army camps to restore peace and tranquility in the hills. Indeed, if Malaria is administered with the drugs meant for tuberculosis, it is very likely that there will be outbreak of the disease – will not decline. Similarly, a political problem can never be a solution by deploying APBn or any other forces.

In case with political solution to the political crisis of CHT, there is no alternative to implementation of the CHT Accord. In fact, it is not by establishing camps of APBn or any other force – as much the task of political solution continues toward progress through implementation of the Accord, so much the lasting peace will get expedited and the conflict will be slowed down thereby.