Home Minister’s visit to Sajek-Kamalak Road & Thegamukh Land Port and the trampled Jumma people


                                                 Sajib Chakma                                  

     The government and administration unilaterally continue to construct the Sajek-Kamalak Border Transit Road and Thegamukh Land Port brushing aside the rights, interest and welfare of the local Jumma people, ignoring the public opinion including the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Regional Council and over all, violating the CHT Accord of 1997 and the CHT Regional Council Act. The government is in a great haste to implement the project on plea of border security and development, without paying attention to inevitable wide-scale damage of the local Jumma people. In other words in contrast, it may be said that the government has taken up the task with stubbornness, in deed, to achieve its mean objective of dealing a great blow to the Jumma people politically, economically, culturally and demographically.

As a part of the ‘modus operandi’, very recently, Md. Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, Minister of Home Affairs arrived in Sajek, a border area of Rangamati Hill District by helicopter on 10 March 2020. After inspection of various army and BGB camps, he flown to Barkal at 2:00 pm. Though objectives of his visit in details could not be known yet it has been learnt through various media that he visited a part of Sajek-Kamalak Road being constructed under three Hill Districts Road Construction Mega Project, Thegamukh Land Port and execution of the Bangladesh-India Friendship Bridge at Teghamukh in Barkal upazila.

It is worthy to be noted that during the visit of the projects so delicate and of significance, no leader or representative ranging from permanent resident of hill districts to CHT Regional Council, Hill District Councils, concerned Circle, Task Force on Rehabilitation of India Returnee Jumma Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons and even Ministry of CHT Affairs was noticed as a member of his retinue. It has been learnt that the companions that comprised his retinue were: about 19 high officials including Mostafa Kamal Uddin, Senior Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs; Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwari, Inspector General of Police; Major General Md. Safinul Islam, Director General of BGB; Major General Kazi Sharif Qaikobad, Director General of Ansar Battalion; Md. Benazir Ahmed, Director General of RAB et al.

It is needless to mention here that various conjectures may happen to arise out of seeing the structure and nature of the visiting team headed by the Home Minister. Firstly, whether at all he came for a military purpose or for a military visit or showdown. Or secondly, he had another agenda other than the known ones for which he did not include any local authorities. Thirdly, whether the Project led by the government and Army is a scheme isolated of the masses. But it is crystal clear that no spontaneous participation of the people or permanent residents of hill districts was to be seen in this project and/or for this, the government or the army did never care for participation or support of the local people. However, it is fact that the people cherish different opinion and that they have been opposing the initiative since the very beginning.

It is to be mentioned that the government had an initiative to determine water boundary, enhancement of navigability and construction of Land Ports in CHT and to that affect organized a meeting chaired by the Minister of Water & Navigation Transport Ministry on 29 January 2017. In the meeting attended, among others, by Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, Chairman of CHT Regional Council including 2 other members, Bir Bahadur U Shwe Sing, Minister of Ministry of CHT Affairs; Chairmen of the three Hill District Councils; three Circle Chiefs; Ashok Madhab Roy, Secretary of Shipping Ministry; Mohammad Kamal Uddin Talukder, Additional Secretary; Mohammad Ataharul Islam, Chairman of National River Conservation Commission; Tapan Kumar Chakraborty, Chairman of Bangladesh Land Port Authority; Commodore M Mozammel Haque of BIWT and the officials of Ministry of Shipping and CHT Affairs.

In the meeting, the Shipping Ministry placed a proposal stating that there would be 3 Land Ports in CHT and they are: No.1 in Ramgarh of Khagrachari with Sabrum of South Tripura, Tripura State of India; No.2 in Ghumdhum Union of Nakhyongchhari under Bandarban Hill District with Maungdaw of Myanmar and No.3 at Thegamukh of Barkal upazila under Rangamati Hill District with Kawrpuichhuah of Mizoram, India. Opinion on part of CHT Regional Council was given in favor of establishing Land Port one in Ramgarh of Khagrachhari with Sabroom of South Tripura, India and another one in Ghumdhum Union of Nakhyongchhari under Bandarban Hill District with Maungdaw of Myanmar. But a written recommendation was submitted with a demand for putting a stop to development work of Thegamukh-Kawrpuichhuah Land Port and construction of Thegamukh-Chittagong-link-road until and unless the land disputes get resolved and the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts are precisely made effective as per the CHT Accord. The CHT Regional Council placed its opinion saying: that under the existing situation, it would bring in evil consequence in place of good result − can be well said undoubtedly.

Meanwhile, it has been learnt that a survey was conducted by the Local Government and Engineering Department with technical assistance of the World Bank. But though it has been furnished with information/data of more than hundred consultation meetings, it is learnt that the local people, concerned Union Councils, elected public representatives of concerned Upazilas, the concerned Circle Chief-Headman-Karbari institutions, CHT Regional Council, the highest administrative organ and Member of Parliament of 299 Parbatya Rangamati constituency were not informed of in true sense. The people and the institutions concerned expressed concern over the issue. The PCJSS also maintains different opinion on construction of Thegamukh Land Port under the existing reality and submit demand for stopover of the initiative in the greater interest of the region. The PCJSS has termed the attempt to be contravening to the principal policy of ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ and to be the ‘Second Kaptai Dam’.

The PCJSS opined that as a result of the CHT Accord, the CHT has been recognized as a ‘special administrative region.’ Till precise effectiveness of the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts, the initiative of this genre cannot bring in welfare to the permanent residents of Hillman-Bengali population including the ethnic groups with low population living in CHT. By that moment, the PCJSS furnished its views as under:

(a) To develop transportation system of goods from Thegamukh along the Karnafuli river way via Rangamati-Kaptai solely under the existing navigation system and to put stopover the construction of Link Road from Thegamukh to Chittagong until and unless resolution of land disputes in CHT, proper and fullest introduction of special administration system, preservation of characteristic of tribal-inhabited area of CHT as well as security of lives and properties of permanent residents of CHT are ensured; and

(b) Through proper methodology, to accept opinion of CHT Regional Council, Rangamati Hill District Council, concerned Circle Chief and Mouza Headmen, representatives of the concerned Unions and Upazilas and the civil society on the Bangladesh Regional Connectivity Project.

But even after all this, the government has kept continuation of the initiative unilaterally. As the part of modus operandi, the government and administration have been implementing the construction of Transit Road from Ruilui to Bara Kamalak of Sajek Union under Baghaichari Upazila of Rangamati Hill District the length of which is approximately 50 kilometers, as it has been learnt. The road will be extended across Sijokchara, Daripara, Bolpeya, Upper Choynalchara, Lower Choinalchara, via Kamalak up to the bank of Sajek River. This road will be connected with the road that comes from Mar Bazaar of Mamit District under Mizoram State of India.

It has been learnt that as a result emanating from construction of the road from Ruilui to Bara Kamalak area, some 300 families inhabiting in the areas including Kamalak, Choynalchara and Sijokchara, the inhabitants of 5 villages at the least will have landed in fear of losing their lands. It is fact that 90% of the inhabitants living in Sajek area are internally displaced people who had fallen victims to eviction from their own homesteads and villages during the turmoil that existed in the decades from 1970 to 1990. Despite the CHT Accord contains provision for rehabilitation of these internally displaced families to their lands from where they had been evicted, even after 22 years of signing the Accord, the government has not yet rehabilitated them. On top, once again, it is they many of who had to bear immeasurable damages in lands and gardens due to construction of the Transit Road in the mean while. Tens of thousands of trees in gardens and hundred acres of various crops fields got damaged and continue to get damage as the road construction work is in progress. All the so-called-development programs of the kind are being forcibly implemented under direct supervision of the army and BGB forces.

Indeed, the government has been executing all these anti-Jumma-interest programs by might of barrel of the gun. At this, opportunity of gaining a great amount of money or harvesting self-interest has been being created for the quarter of vested interest including that of the government forces. It is in all the three Hill Districts, luxurious tourism business and road construction including all other development programs are being led and supervised by the army, BGB, etc. or by the various individuals under their indulgence and connivance and what makes ridiculous is that all these development programs are claimed to have been being implemented in the interest of people living in CHT. This claim on part of the government and government quarters including various other government forces is being articulated publicly. Whereas, faces of the Jumma people have been muzzled; freedom of speech has been robbed; and an ill-effort is on to block breathing by clutching necks! It is by might, the government did take the lands in acquisition and already established Science & Technology University and Medical College in Rangamati violating the CHT Accord and rights of the permanent residents of CHT.

As a matter of fact, in consequence to this initiative, the Jumma people are being faced wide-range of damage economically, politically, socially and ultimately eviction from own lands and homesteads. On the other hand, opportunity is being created to the outsider and quarters of vested interest for infiltration, large-scale plundering and land grabbing.

It is of worth-mentioning that the PCJSS, time and again, has been making it clear that in principle, the organization by no circumstance is against development, establishment of tourism industry, Science & Technology University and Medical College. The PCJSS, of course, wants a balanced and self-determined development, progress, establishment of perennial peace of the people living in this region and wants peaceful and political solution to the CHT crisis. It has been for that purpose the PCJSS entered upon the CHT Accord.

Whereas, quite contrary to this, we find that the government has not implemented the main issues of the Accord even after passing 22 years! Instead of withdrawal of military rule and all temporary camps, rather installation process of army camps has been further strengthened. The India-returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jumma families have not yet been got back their lands and homesteads. Not a single dispute of lands has been resolved. No initiative has yet been undertaken to frame up Electoral Roll with the permanent residents and hold elections in the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils.

Though there is the provision according to which a special administrative system with the CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils was to be made effective and the subjects of general administration, law & order, police (Local), lands & land management, forest & environment, etc. were to be devolved to these Councils, rather in place, the government is crippling them all the time. In place of preserving the tribal-dominating feature of the region, the government is violating the term all the time. Indeed, the government has put a stop to the implementation process of the Accord in the totality.

Not only so, in one hand, the government and army are in saying about the development, peace and security in CHT while they are executing conspiring programs that stand counter to the Accord and interest of the Jumma people, on the other. The CHT Regional Council has been kept dysfunctional. An ill-effort is on as to deal a blow to the party of CHT Accord and signatory of the Accord, PCJSS and its associate organizations, by way of filing up false cases against and taking the PCJSS leaders and supporters arrested, keeping under detention, conducting searches indiscriminately, interfering in the peaceful democratic movement and attempting to stop protesting voice and destroying the strength of movement for implementation of the Accord. As it has been earlier of signing the Accord, military rule, suppression, oppression, jail, coercion, searching, cross-fire killing, rape, illegal land occupation, communal attack, etc. have been intensified.

Whereas, the government as well as Home Minister have turned a blind eye to all these atrocities. Neither they hear nor do they understand. The reason is that they are thrilled in Ultra-Bengali-National Chauvinism and immersed at neck deep into the ocean of Anti-Jumma racism and of communalism. They always see CHT through the so-called security, sovereignty and development spectacles. They like to confine themselves in the world of their own realization studying the lessons of the Jumma people and PCJSS classically labeled by the army as terrorists, extortionists, anti-state elements, separatists, etc. They are incapable of crossing out of the ambit and hence they do not see.

So, they are deaf of crying and waling of the Jumma people and do not see their anguish and flames that sweep over the hills. It is for this reason, thus the Home Minister and other Ministers including the high-ranking bureaucrats of various forces easily and care-freely do away with illegal occupation of lands belonging to Jumma people, eviction of Jumma people, transgression of rights of the Jumma people on plea of development and violation of the CHT Accord – the Charter of rights of the Jumma people.

In fact, in the name of development, the gravity of aggression and coercion that the government is carrying out upon the Jumma people in the recent days, in short may be ascribed as an ‘all-out indigenous Jumma ruining conspiracy’ or nothing but an anti-people colonial aggression. The objective of this kind of development engineering is to turn the CHT into a ‘Jumma-zero’ tracts and contrarily to make it an absolute Muslim-Bengali-populated region.

It is needless to say that it the verdict of history that the colonial rule, suppression and oppression of any form is bound to get thrown off into dustbin of the history of mankind. The Jumma people also must resist the conspiracy of the ruling class of the country.