Statement of 13 orgs demanding stop of eviction of Jhimai Khasiapunji and forest destruction

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Hill Voice, 6 March 2023, Sylhet: 13 human rights organizations of the country have demanded an end to the eviction of 72 Khasia families and forest destruction in Jhimai Khasia Punji of Kulaura Upazila of Moulvibazar. The organizations made this demand in a joint statement on Sunday (March 5).

According to the statement, 72 Khasia families of Jhimai Khasia Punji have been living on 406 acres of land for generations. There are their ancestors’ graveyard, three religious churches, playground, cultural center, Khasi mother tongue education center and a primary school in this traditional land. Apart from that, there are only Pan Jum (betel leaf cultivation) which is only source earning for their livelihood and thousands of centenary trees. Jhimai tea garden owned by Kedarpur Tea Company is next to Khasia Punji.

Without considering the traditional land rights of the Khasia people, their lifestyle and existence, the government leased additional 661 acres of land including Khasia Punji land in Jhimai Mouza for 40 years. Jhimai tea garden authority took this lease by hiding this information from the government. This created a conflict between the tea plantation authority and the Khasia community.

The statement also said, “On the basis of this lease, attempts are being made to grab the land of Khasias in the name of expansion of tea plantations. Earlier, the tea plantation authority blocked the main road of movement of the Khasia people and prevented their movement. The Khasia people alleged that the tea plantation authority is constantly harassing them by filing false cases against them. Recently, tea garden authority has taken the initiative to cut 2 thousand 96 trees. In this situation, we are demanding to stop the eviction of the Khasia families and the destruction of the forest.”

The statement was signed by Sultana Kamal, president of Bangladesh Environmental Movement (Bapa), Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Law Association (BELA), Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), ZI Khan Panna, President of Ain O Salish Kendra, Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD).

Noor Khan Liton, Executive Director of Ain O Salish Kendra, Zakir Hossain, Executive Director of Citizen Initiatives, SM Rezaul Karim, Legal Adviser of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Sanjeeb Drong, General Secretary of Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Kajal Debnath, Presidium Member of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad, Flora Babli Talang, Kubraj of Inter Capital Development Organization General Secretary, Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng.