Govt’s opinions on implementation of CHT Accord completely baseless

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Mangal Kumar Chakma

The 26th anniversary of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord is being celebrated. But a treaty like the CHT Accord could not have been properly implemented as yet even passing more than one-fourth century. Opposite statements on implementation issue of the Accord are being given by the government including the ruling Awami League at one end while the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), on the other. It is to be noted that for monitoring of the implementation process, the Accord provides a provision by merit of which there exists the ‘CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee’ wherein as the members are: the Convener as the representative of Prime Minister, and member as President of the PCJSS and Chairman of the Task Force formed in accordance with the Accord. It means that the Committee is consisted of two representatives from the government side and one from the PCJSS side. Despite the existence of Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee, while having the Committee by-passed and without having consultation with the PCJSS, one of the signatory parties, the government has formed a 10-member committee with the high officials from various ministries titling: “Inter-Ministerial Committee for Evaluation, Progress and Monitoring of CHT Accord on 28 September 2022 – a move on part of the government, which may be held as a direct violation of the Accord.

In the report one-sidedly prepared during the meeting held on 25 November 2022 by the said Inter-Ministerial Committee it is mentioned that 65 sections out of 72 of the CHT Accord have been implemented. On the contrary, according to the PCJSS, it is only 25 sections out of 72 have been implemented so far. The remaining 47 sections have been left either partially implemented or completely unimplemented. Especially, the core issues of the Accord, such as, preservation of tribal-inhabited feature of the CHT region; introduction of ‘special governance system’ incorporating the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils, and preparation of electoral roll with the permanent residents to hold elections in these councils; with exception to the 6 army cantonments, to withdraw all the temporary camps; resolution of land disputes through land commission with return of dispossessed land to Jumma people; rehabilitation of India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families by returning their land; cancellation of land leases given to non-locals; land settlement of landless Jumma people, to amend all the laws applicable to CHT in consonance with the Accord; to employ the permanent residents in all jobs available in CHT with priority preference to the tribal people; to rehabilitate all the settlers outside CHT with due honor, etc. subjects have been left unimplemented.

Given herein below are some of the important sections of the Accord, which the government claims to have been implemented, but in reality they have not been implemented:

Under section-1 of Part-A, there is a provision that states: “Having considered the CHT to be a tribal-inhabited region to preserve the feature of this region to that effect.” But the government claims that the tribal-inhabited feature of CHT region has been ensured through bringing an amendment to the 15th amendment to the constitution under Article-23(a) wherein mentioned the protection and development of the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities.

The factual reality is, with implementation of the section the issues that are inter-dependent include: resolution to the land disputes; preservation of land rights of Jumma people; establishment of ‘special governance system’ having the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils properly effective and functional; devolvement of potentially significant subjects, such as, general administration, law & order, police (local), land & land management to the Councils; rehabilitation of the India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families; preparation of the electoral roll with the permanent residents; and rehabilitation of settlers outside CHT with dignity, etc. are integrally related to the implementation of the Accord. Whereas, these issues have been lying far from implementation. Hence, under this state of affairs, this section cannot be regarded as to have been implemented.

Under section-2 of Part-A, the provision states about bringing alteration and amendment to the laws, regulations, practices applicable to CHT. The government has been claiming that in accordance with this provision, it is through bringing amendment to the three Hill District Council Act 1989, the section of the Accord has been implemented. Whereas, there are many laws existent in CHT, which necessitate to be amended in consonance to the CHT Accord. For instances: In order to make the provision of the Accord effective, all the laws applicable to CHT including the Police Act of 1861, Police Regulation, Forest Act of 1927 and CHT Regulation of 1900 are unavoidably necessitate to get amended.

The government claims from among the 35 sections relating to the Hill District Councils mentioned under Part-B, 33 sections have been implemented through bringing amendment (addition) to the Hill District Council Act. But though those were added to the act, but have not been put to effect. For instance, the words: “non-tribal permanent residents” defined under section-3 of Part-B have been added to the Hill District Council Act – it is true but has not been put to effect. On the contrary, while violating the provision through an Office Order dated 21-12-2000 by which the Deputy Commissioners were empowered to issue Permanent Resident Certificate alongside the tribal Circle Chiefs against which despite repeated submission of demand for immediate withdrawal of the order, it has not been withdrawn.

The provision relating to ‘qualification of becoming a voter and preparation of electoral roll with the permanent residents’ stated under section-9 of Part-B of the Accord, has though been added to the Hill District Council Act but has not been implemented. To make this provision effective, the Electoral Roll Rules and Election Rules have not yet been framed up. Hence the government opinion of having the provision implemented is not correct. On the other, Section-10 of Part-B that mentions “delimitation of constituencies” has though been included in the Hill District Council Act, yet it has not been made effective

The government claims that the implementation process of the provision relating to ‘appointment, transfer and punishment affairs of Sub-Inspector and below ranking constables of CHT Police as stated under section-24 of Part-B of the Accord is underway. This provision has been though included in the law but has not been taken any measure to make it effective through the Hill District Councils. On the other side, the subjects of ‘Police (local)’ and ‘law & order preservation and development’ have not yet been transferred to the Hill District Councils and the Regulation that provides provisions for formation of ‘police force’ has not yet been made effective.

The government claims that the provision relating to prohibition on giving settlements lands, transfer of ownership, giving in lease and acquisition of lands without prior approval of the Hill District Council, as mentioned under Section-34(a) of Part-B of the Accord, is being implemented. In fact, the provision has been though incorporated in the act, in practice, the provision not being made effective. The subject ‘Land & Land Management’ is one of the subjects conferred under section-34(a) of Part-B of the Accord that falls under jurisdiction of the Hill District Councils. But this subject has not yet been devolved to the Hill District Councils. The functions of Headman, Chainman, Amin, Surveyer, Kanungo and Assistant Commissioner (Land) have not been brought under supervision and control of the Hill District Councils.

The government claims that all the 14 sections relating to the CHT Regional Council stated under Part-C of the Accord have been implemented through inclusion of all of them in the act. Whereas, the provisions that provides the authority to CHT Regional Council to supervise and coordinate of all functions that fall under jurisdiction of Hill District Council including all the development programs executed under the Hill District Councils and entrusted subjects thereof, have been though included in the act but the exercise of power to that effect has not been put to place with the CHT Regional Council. Up till now, it is due to non-cooperation on part of the three Hill District Councils and Ministry of CHT Affairs, all functions of the Hill District Councils including the development programs could not be brought for coordination and supervision by the CHT Regional Council.

Similarly, regarding the provision that confers the power of supervision and coordination of general administration, law & order and development of three Hill Districts by the CHT Regional Council have been though included in the act, has not been put to effect. The Deputy Commissioners of the three hill districts have been exercising all the powers relating to the general administration by merit of the CHT Regulation 1900 along with the ‘Operation Uttoron’ as before. Hence, the government opinion of having ‘all the sections implemented’ is not correct.

The government is in the opinion that the section-13 of Part-C relating to prerogative right of the CHT Regional Council in framing up laws relating to CHT, has been implemented through inclusion of the provision in the act. In fact, this provision of the Accord is not being followed in action. In most cases, opinion of the CHT Regional Council is not sought in framing up laws relating to the CHT or if it is received at all, the opinion placed by CHT Regional Council does not get effective.

The government claims the section-1 under Part-D of the Accord relating to repatriation and rehabilitation of ‘India-returnee hill refugees has been implemented. But as per version of the Jumma Refugee Welfare Organization, 9,780 families have not gotten back their homesteads and lands and the other due demands also have not been met. Some 40 villages belonged to the India-returnee Jumma refugees, homesteads and lands are under complete occupation of the settlers as to this day. Hence, the government opinion of having the provision ‘completely implemented’ is not correct.

The provision stated under section-1 of Part-D relating to identification of Internally Displaced Jumma families and arrangement to be undertaken for their rehabilitation through the Task Force, has been also mentioned in the government Report, which is not correct. In accordance to the definition of ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ as defined in the Task Force session held on 27 June 1998 at Khagrachari Circuit House, altogether 93,000 Jumma families had been identified as the internally displaced families in 2000. But no initiative was undertaken to return their respective lands and rehabilitate them accordingly.

According to the government report, Sections-4, 5 and 6 stated under Part-D of the Accord relating to Land Dispute Resolution Commission, section-4 is ‘partially’ implemented, section-5 is ‘implemented’ and section-6 is also mentioned to have been ‘implemented.’ If so in accordance with the government version, from among the 3 sections, it is only 1 section, which has been ‘partially’ or ‘half’ left un-implemented. Whereas, not a single land dispute has been resolved during the last 26 years. The Jumma people have got back even not a single piece of dispossessed lands.

It is to be mentioned that the contravening provisions contained in the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act of 2001 were amended after 15 years through passing ‘CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission (Amendment) Act 2016 in the parliament on 6 October 2016. After amendment of the Act, the CHT Regional Council drafted ‘Rules of CHT Land Commission and submitted to the Ministry of Lands on 1 January 2017. But the government has not yet finalized the said Rules. Consequently, the judicial functions of the resolution of land disputes of the Commission could not be started as yet. Besides, the Land Commission does not have adequate fund, human resource and logistics.

After signing of the Accord, from among more than 500 temporary camps, it is only 66 camps were withdrawn within 1997 to 1999 while 35 camps were withdrawn within the span of 2009 to 2013. But many withdrawn camps have been restored. Of them, during Covid-19 pandemic period, at least 20 withdrawn camps have been re-established. As a result, though 101 temporary camps out of 545 were withdrawn, still more than 400 temporary camps have been left active as usual. Moreover, the government one-sidedly promulgated “Operation Uttoron” on 1 September 2001. It is by merit of this, the military authority has been playing a decisive role in all affairs including general administration, law & order, tourism and development in the hills.

Regarding differences between the government and PCJSS on implementation of CHT Accord issue, the real picture of CHT Accord implementation status can be drawn by conducting evaluation through ‘CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee’ and the mutually conflicting opinions and views may be resolved thereby.

In fact, there is no alternative to proper implementation of the Accord in preserving the non-Muslim inhabited feature of the region. Sustainable political and peaceful solution to the CHT crisis can only be obtained through proper, full and speedy implementation of the CHT Accord.