Hill Voice, 9 April 2023, Bandarban: Local victims have organised a human chain and sent a memorandum to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Affairs Minister demanding cancellation of process of settlement and occupation of 150 acres of land owned by local indigenous Jumma people in the name of setting up ‘Seagull Boarding School’ by the outsider Seagull Hotel authorities in Naikhyongchari under Bandarban hill district.
A strong appeal has been made in the memorandum to cancel the plotting of allotment of the land to Seagull by evicting the villagers and take action against those involved in this illegal process. Otherwise, the law and order situation might deteriorate and those involved in the illegal process will be held responsible, the memorandum said.
Today’s morning (9 April), the human chain and submission of memorandum event has been held under the banner of ‘Victimised people of Sonaichari union’ at Naikhyongchari upazila headquarters.
The memorandum was signed by more than 3 hundred Marma villagers from different villages including Sonaichari Union Parishad member of Ward No. 4 Yuo Thowai Prue Marma Milon, Ward No. 3 member of the same union Mongye Marma, Member of Ward No. 5 Mongchathowai Marma, UP member Ukyahla Marma, Sui Thwai Ching Marma.
The memorandum says, ‘We the 350 families in the above mentioned four villages (Lamar Para, Kiang Para, Chingthowai Para and Jumkhola Para) have been living happily and peacefully for ages and generations. Recently, on the basis of a notice of Naikhyongchari Upazila Land Office, we have come to know that 150 acres of land from the settlement and the land of the villagers that they have been enjoying for generations will be measured and investigated to hand over to the Hotel Seagull authority of Cox’s bazar district. There the Hotel Seagull authority will set up the Seagull International Boarding School, hearing which we are horrified about threat of the loss of our base and livelihood.
The memorandum also said, ‘Honorable Minister, our past experience is that outsider land grabbers come to grab land in Bandarban with temptation. The hotel Seagull Authority is also using the upazila administration and some local brokers in the same way to grab the land of our above-mentioned villages. 100-120 Marma families depend directly on the mentioned 150 acres of land for their livelihood. Some of them also have recorded land settlements. Following laws, customary practices, customs and procedures, many of them have plantation, Jum-farm and vegetables under traditional ownership.’
It added, ‘setting up of International standard commercial boarding schools is just a bait for Hotel Seagull. The actual aim is to grab lands for tourism and hotel business.’
The memorandum says, ‘If the said 150 acres of land is given away, 100-120 families will lose their land directly and gradually all the lands of the five neighboring villagers will also be dispossessed. On the one hand, 350 families of five neighborhoods will lose their livelihood, the familiar surroundings will be changed and the residents of the villages will not be able to survive in an unfamiliar world, losing their social diversity.’
The memorandum further says, ‘Honorable Minister, eight Chak and Marma villages have been evicted from Naikhyongchari (between 2006 and 2014) after the CHT Peace Accord due to lease of lands for rubber and horticulture. Hundreds of evicted families have taken shelter in various places living inhumane conditions. You are aware that since 1989 land settlement has been stopped in CHT. After the CHT Peace Accord, there are restrictions to hand over any kind of land to outsiders and institutions. Therefore, the process of settlement of 150 acres of land under traditional ownership to outsider Hotel Seagull Authority is completely illegal and against the provisions of the CHT Peace Accord.’
It is to be noted that according to a notice issued on August 28, 2022 by Md. Ahid Ullah, Surveyor of upazila land office of Naikhyongchari upazila, Masum Iqbal, Chairman of Seagal International School, Seagal branch of Hotel Motel Zone, Cox’s Bazar, has applied for the settlement of 150 acres of land in the name of establishing an international standard Seagal Boarding School in Sonaichari Mouza of Sonaichari Union in Naikhyongchari.
Following Masum Iqbal’s application, the said notice was issued by the Naikhyongchari land office to the applicant or his nominated surveyor or representative to appear at the Naikhyonchari Land Office on 11th April 2023 for investigation of the matter.
In the said notice, it asked to be present with information on how much infrastructure will be set up on the land, what initiatives will be taken to protect the environment and biodiversity, what will contribute to the development of tourism, what will contribute to the creation of employment, what benefits will the local residents get, etc.
It may be noted that there are many examples of expropriation of thousands acres of traditional Jum farm and Mouza land, eviction and cultural aggression.
Out of them, allegation of the encroachment of around 2,000 acres of land of Jumma peoples including Mro community and eviction of Mro inhabitants from their ancestral land in Lama through various tactics and conspiracy by the Quantum Foundation.
Similarly, there are instances that the Bidyananda Foundation also expropriated hundreds of acres of land of Jummas’ land in the name of providing educational facilities. The Bidyananda Foundation has also been accused of taking up joint projects with the army for easy benefits.