Conspiracy to declare the CHT Regulation 1900 as ‘Dead law’ or ‘Defunct law’

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Hill Voice, 13 May 2024, Special Reporter: An active conspiracy is being made to declare the “The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation” or “The CHT Regulation, 1900” as dead law or null and void law, which is closely related to the historical, traditional, customary and special rights of indigenous Jumma peoples in Chittagong hill tracts (CHT). At present, it is reportedly at a crucial state for the negative and antagonistic role by the Attorney General of present government, with an ongoing conspiracy by anti-Jumma and communal cliques.

May 9, 2024 (Thursday), the full bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court has held the review hearing regarding the declaration of it as a dead law. A total of eight judges including the Chief Justice were reported to be present in the bench. Reportedly, the final hearing of the case will be held on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

It is learnt that, even last Thursday’s full bench hearing, the Attorney General in his submission (speech), instead of protecting the basic content of the ‘CHT Regulation 1900’, has rather stood for removing at least 10 more important provisions including some words ‘Raja’, ‘Indigenous’ and certain clauses and appealed to conclude the review hearing along with accepting his statement agreeing with settlers.

Experts are of the opinion that, if the court accepts the Attorney General’s statement and dismissed the case, the CHT Regulation 1900 will be a dead law or null and void law.

In the said hearing, AF Hasan Arif, Senior Advocate of the reviewers and Advocate Prabir Niyogi, applied to be the party of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, gave submission after the Attorney General.

Subsequently, Senior Advocate Prabir Neogi, who applied to represent the viewpoint of the CHT Regional Council on the matter, mentioned that they are still unsure whether they are a party to this review petition or if their application to be a party will be accepted. Hence, they could not provide a response to the written supplemental evidence submitted by the state. He further stated, “My Lord, The Hill Tracts Manual 1900 is a historical law, and after the CHT Accord, it was amended by the esteemed parliament in 2003, becoming a prevailing law applied in the hill regions. The past and present history of the hill region is well known to us all, so we should think carefully before taking any hasty actions by the mark of a pen inside these walls.”

Then, the honorable Chief Justice said, “The state only asked to omit a few words, nothing more than that. If those are omitted, what harm would come, Mr. Neogi?”

To which Mr. Neogi responded, “My Lord, not just a few words, the state has asked to omit 37 clauses out of the 65 clauses of the judgment, so if these many clauses are removed, what will remain of the judgment? Those words which the state wants to omit are related to the hills’ social practices, norms, traditions, and we also need to reevaluate whether the state can make wishes to modify its own judgment? The court is not an entity that makes laws; it is an entity that follows laws, and what laws will prevail in the state will be decided by the state’s lawmakers.”

Notably, in 2003, following the petition of the Attorney General of the then BNP government in the High Court Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, ‘the CHT Regulation 1900’ was declared as dead law, in Rangamati Food Product Ltd. V. the Commissioner of Customs and others case.

However, after the change of the government, during the Awami League government, when the state party appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against the said decision of the High Court Division, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court maintained the validity of ‘the CHT Regulation 1900’ due to the positive attitude of the then Attorney General and declared the regulation to be a fully ‘living and valid law’. In the case of Wagachara Tea Estate Ltd. V. Muhammad Abu Taher and Others, the above recognition was also upheld.

But in 2018, one Abdul Aziz Akhend, a settler living in the Khagrachari Hill District filed a civil review petition against the judgement of the aforesaid Rangamati Food Product Ltd. V. Commissioner of Customs and others through civil petition number No.-54/2018 and similarly one Abdul Malek also a settler and resident of Khagrachari filed a civil review petition against the judgement of the Wagachara Tea Estate Ltd. V. Muhammad Abu Taher and Others case, being Civil Petition No. 192/2018.

In view of the government’s position in the said cases, although the current Attorney General is supposed to take the position in accordance with the judgment given by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, on the contrary, he has taken a position in favour of the review of the said judgment i.e. the fundamental amendment of the ‘Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900’, where there is a risk of becoming the law invalid and dead law.

On July 26, 2023, 32 eminent citizens including Chakma Circle Chief Raja Barrister Devashish Roy, President of Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee Gautam Dewan, Educationist Mang Sanu Chowdhury, Former Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office Ukya Jain, Nirupa Dewan, Dr. Sudhin Kumar Chakma, Juamlian Amlai Bawm presented a memorandum to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in this regard. In the memorandum, they termed the role of the Attorney General as ‘anti-customary behaviour’ in matters of statutory and customary law of the Chittagong Hill Tracts at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

The memorandum mentions, ‘On becoming aware of the aforesaid developments, on November 28, 2021, the Convenor of the CHT Accord Implementation Committee Abul Hasnat Abdullah MP, Minister of the CHT Affairs Ministry Bir Bahadur U Shwe Sing MP, Former Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and three members of Parliament from the CHT Dipankar Talukdar, Kujendra Lal Tripura and Ms. Bashanti Chakma, met Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Anisul Haque, and requested him to instruct the Attorney General to take position in favour of the CHT Accord of 1997 and the CHT Regulation of 1900. It has been reliably learnt that despite the aforesaid instructions of the Law Minister, the Attorney General was nevertheless pursuing his Anti-CHT Accord agenda, as before.’

It further states, ‘If the prayer of the learned Attorney General is granted, particularly with regard to the deletion of numerous paragraphs dealing with customary law, this will weaken the multicultural setting and secular orientation of the CHT region. … If the prayer of the learned Attorney General is granted, this will adversely impact upon the preamble to the CHT Accord 1997, as well as the preambles to the CHT Regional Council Act, 1998 (Act No. 12 of 1998) and the three Hill Districts Councils Acts, 1989 (Acts No. 19, 20 and 21) in which CHT has been acknowledged as a “tribal-inhabited area”. and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Councils Act, 1998. This will deeply hurt the sentiments of the hill people, foster discontent, unrest and instability and also seriously disrupt the peace process.’

It should be noted that the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the home of the Jummas who have been living as an independent entity since time immemorial, was directly included in the British Empire by being declared as a district in 1860. Although included in the British Empire, the British administration enacted ‘Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900’ in 1900 giving the status of Chittagong Hill Tracts as a Special Administrative Region. Since then, this regulation has been in force as one of the main laws governing the administration of hilly areas.