Extortion, Bribery and Corruption of State Actors in the CHT–1

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              Udayan Tanchangya              

The army, law enforcement and intelligence agencies posted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the local administration and local leadership of the ruling party have been vocal in their one-sided propaganda that “ordinary people have become disgusted with the extortion of armed groups in the three hill districts”. On 29 December 2016, the daily Manabzamin published report titled ‘The reign of extortion by armed groups in the hills’ that “Tk. 40 crore 29 lakh 17 thousand is collected as extortion alone in these three districts every year.” The report said that “in addition to various sectors, regional political parties at different times of the year extort money in the name of their party’s founding anniversary, Jumma national leader’s death anniversary, mother tongue day, party council, Biju/Sangrai, Puja, Bouddha Purnima, Buddhist monastery/temple, kathin chibar dana etc.”

In fact, the main purpose behind spreading propaganda entangling the organizations and activists engaged in the movement with this extortion is to identify the organizations and activists engaged in the movement including Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) as terrorists and to give legitimacy to repression against them.

Extortion is not taking place in the CHT in various ways- it cannot be denied. However, the extent to which the law and order, security and intelligence forces, the local administration and the ruling party are spreading propaganda about extortion is not consistent with the real situation. In fact, the main purpose behind spreading propaganda entangling the organizations and activists engaged in the movement with this extortion is to identify the organizations and activists engaged in the movement including Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) as terrorists and to give legitimacy to repression against them.

It is to be noted that, in terming the one-time voluntary donation of the people for social and religious ceremonies including ‘..Biju/Sangrai, Puja, Bouddha Purnima, Buddhist monastery / temple, kathin chibar dana, etc.’ as extortion, one of the aims of which is to prevent the Jumma people from performing these cultural, social and religious ceremonies. Moreover, these religious and social ceremonies in the hills are mainly carried out with the financial, physical and mental support of the people. It is astonishing that, the law enforcement and security forces or the administration are not seen to consider the donation collected for various mosques / madrasas even though stopping vehicles on the roadside by announcing with loud speaker in broad daylight as extortion.

It may be mentioned that the army, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, local administration and the ruling party have been vocal against extortion of regional political parties, but have been playing a silent role in rampant corruption, project embezzlement, fraud in tender bidding, appointment business in different posts, malpractice and factionalism of various government departments and authorities in the three hill districts. Nevertheless, the news of fraud in tender bidding, embezzlement of projects, corruption and irregularities for food grains amounting to crores of BDT, reckless extortion of Chatra League and Juba League of rulling party sometimes came in the newspapers in spite of implicit restrictions.

It is to be noted that corruption, irregularities and transactions amounting to hundreds of crores of BDT are involved in the business of timber and bamboo, one of the resources of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Since the army, law enforcement and intelligence forces, the local administration and the ruling party are involved in this mal-practice, these state forces, government authorities and parties are completely silent on this issue in one hand, while anti-corruption organizations and authorities, media and civil society do not dare to speak out against this for fear of harassment on the other hand.

Bribery and Extortion in Forest Resources Business:

In all the three hill districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts, there is a significant mal-practice of power involving multi-faceted corruption that begins with bribery in issuance of Jote permit to the individuals holding own timber-wood plantations of teak, Gamar, Koroi, etc. and in transportation of the forest and natural resources. In context of CHT, corruption in Forest Department includes not only financial matters but also involves irregularities in all affairs dealt by the authority and hence, corruption has become an institutionalized practice, which is openly applicable to all, in general. Alongside, another practice, widely known as ‘extortion’ has already asserted its position since long as an obligatory element of corruption to be fulfilled like the Value Added Tax (VAT), of course, payable not to the government but to the ruling party leadership, the concerned associate organizations linked to the ruling parties and the local terrorists. The forest-resource-based-corruption circle incorporates the Forest Department, administration, authorities of all security forces including BGB, law & order agency, intelligence agencies, local ruling party leadership, associate organizations of the ruling party, business community and the different local groups.

However, bribery, irregularities and extortion start right from beginning of the process for obtaining and issuing Jote permits to the individuals who have developed matured groves of timber woods. Permits are issued defining the quantities and volume of timbers as applied for but the lot is loaded with extra woods gathered from the reserve forests. Since No Objection Certificate is issued from the forest department authority and negotiation is already established, no hurdle is caused in the army-led check-posts during transportation of timbers and natural resources. The mass media remains silent on this issue. As the scenario is common in all the three hill districts, the process of ‘modus operandi’ may be described as follows:

After submission of application of the land owner addressing to the Deputy Commissioner, the process of approving the Jote Permit starts from office of the Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO). Bribery / extortion starts in the government offices in the forest resources business by paying Tk. 500 to the clerk of the DC office for issuing the letter. Initially, the UNO office staff, Kanungo of Upazilla land office and the concerned Mouza Headman investigate the spot and land of the plantation site. The job of this team is to take snaps and measurement of the plantation land in accordance with the given Dag and holding numbers methodically called ‘Chharh Marka’. During this phase of the process, Tk. 20,000 to Tk. 22,000 has to be paid to the UNO office for each permit as bribe, which is locally called “Office Expense.” Each Permit is issued 5000 to 7000 Cubic Feet (cft) timber on average. As such, the sum of Taka 20,000 has been assumed @ 4.00 Taka per cubic feet (on assumption of permit for 5,000 cft).

Afterward, the file is submitted to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) for approval. Here, the permit applicant has to pay Tk. 5,000 for each permit to the office in the name of ‘L.R. Fund’. Besides, Tk. 500 has to be paid separately to the concerned clerk attached to Office of the Deputy Commissioner. This means that the money to be paid may be calculated @1.00 Taka per cft.

The file is then sent to the concerned branch of the Forest Department Office. On receipt of the file, the Forest Department issues an Office Order directing to identify the mature trees in the plantation and mark them at standing position which is called ‘Kharha Marka’ (marking) and then measurement is taken at vertical position. At this phase, Tk 500 has to be paid to the concerned clerk for issuance of the letter for ‘Kharha Marka’ and at the same time, a calculated amount @5.00 Taka per cft has to be paid to the Forest Range Officer of the concerned Forest Division as ‘Office Expense’ for carrying out marking and measurement.

After the ‘Kharha Marka’, the matter goes to office of the ACF (Assistant Forest Conservator) for final recommendation. At this phase, the applicant has to pay an amount determined @ 3.00 Taka per cft as ‘Office Expense.’

Thereafter, the file is then sent to Office of the DFO (Divisional Forest Officer) for ensuring the cutting order. Here, the applicant has to pay a calculated amount @ 5.00 Taka per cft to the DFO, as ‘Office Expense.’

After cutting to size, the next task is to give the ‘Pass Mark’ on the timbers. This is done by the Range Officer on the spot. Now, it is the applicant to pay an amount on calculation @ 20 Taka per cft for Teak and @ 15 Taka per cft average for the other categories of timbers.

The next step after the ‘Passmark’ is to undergo a check-up by the ACF to see as to whether the timbers have been given the ‘Passmark’ properly. For this task, now, the applicant has to pay a calculated amount @ 3.00 Taka per cft to the ACF.

The following task is then to issue a Log Book in accordance with the ‘D’ Form to be obtained from the DFO for transporting the timbers. For this, a calculated amount @ 5.00 Taka has to be paid to the DFO.

Afterward, while transporting by waterways along the Kaptai Lake, the applicant has to pay a calculated amount @ 6.00 Taka per cft to the authority of each Check Post (ghat) of the Forest Department. Barkal, Baghaichhari, Jurachhari and Bilaichhari – wherever the timbers are brought from, at least 2 check posts are there on the way while transporting the timbers up to Rangamati District Headquarters. Therefore, the amount payable at 2 Check Posts stands @ 12.00 Taka per cft.

On reaching Rangamati District Head Quarters, timbers are unloaded and stock pilled. After Stock Piling, Road Transport Pass (RTP) has to be obtained from the Range Officer and DFO for road transportation from Rangamti to Dhaka. At this hour, the applicant has to pay @ 8.00 Taka per cft – with a breakage to be paid @ 3.00 Taka per cft and @ 5.00 Taka per cft, as ‘Office Expense’ to the Range Officer and DFO respectively.

Now, on the way from Rangamati district headquarters to Dhaka by road, at least 8 Check Posts of the Forest Department and Police has to be crossed. At each check post, an amount of Tk. 3,000 has to be paid for each timber-carrying truck. Accordingly, for the 8 numbers of Check Post, each timber-loaded truck has to pay altogether Tk. 24,000. If an average of 360 cubic feet timber is transported in each truck, apart from truck fare, the cost of so called “Office Expense” stands Tk 70 per cft. It is to be noted that apart from the 8 Check Posts mentioned herein above (from Rangamati to Dhaka), there still remains at least two dozen authorities including the truck association, local government councils, various local associations, and the ruling party, etc. to be paid.

On the other hand, besides such “office expenses” there are BGB and army Check Posts while transporting timbers by waterways in the Kaptai Lake. There are 3 Check Posts, namely, Choto Harina BGB zone, Barkal BGB zone and Subalong army camp, on the way from Barkal Upazila to Rangamati Sadar by waterways. According to sources, an amount of Tk. 30,000 to Tk. 40,000 per boat carrying timbers has to pay to the Choto Harina BGB zone, Tk. 60,000 to Tk. 70,000 per boat to the Barkal BGB zone and Tk. 3,000 to Tk. 5,000 to the Sublang army camp. In addition, 30/40 log timbers are collected free of cost from each boat at Barkal and Chhota Harina BGB zonal Check Posts on various pretexts.

Accordingly, the average cost of “Office Expense” payable at 3 Check Posts stands 1,05,000 Taka. If an average of 2,000 cubic feet timbers is transported in each boat, an average “Office Expense” of Tk. 55 per cft has to be paid to the army and BGB Check Posts. The Muslim Bengali settlers are made use as mediators by the BGB in this bribery transaction. The settler brokers also impose a large sum of money as brokerage.

Earlier, the army authority was entrusted with the task of issuing the Jote permits. At that time, the commanders of the concerned camp / sub-zone / zone also used to take a huge amount of money in issuance of Jote Permits. But later on, a case was filed against the practice for which the army services in the permit issuing process was terminated.

The transaction flow of bribe/extortion/office expense in the holistic process from obtaining approval of permit to transportation of timber logs is given as follows:

Sl. Office/Authority Amount of bribe (BDT)
1. Clerk of DC office Tk. 500 (Issuing letter)
2. UNO office Tk. 4 (per cft)
3. DC office (LR fund) Tk. 1.0 (per cft)
4. Clerk of Forest office Tk. 500 (Issuing letter)
5. Ranger (Kharha Marka) Tk. 5 (per cft)
6. ACF Tk. 3 (per cft)
7. DFO (For cutting order) Tk. 5 (per cft)
8. Ranger (For Passmarka) Tk. 20 (per cft)
9. ACF (Passmarka checking Tk. 3 (per cft)
10. DFO (D form) Tk. 5 (per cft)
11. From Barkal, Baghaichhari, Jurachhari and Bilaichhari to Rangamati at two checkposts (at the rate of Tk. 6 per cft per checkpost) Tk. 12 (per cft)
12. RTP Rangamati office (Tk. 3 to Ranger and Tk. 2 to DFO) Tk. 5 (per cft)
13. 8 checkposts from Rangamati to Dhaka Tk.70 (per cft)
14. Choto Harina & Barkal BGB zone and Subalong army camp Tk. 55 (per cft)
Total cost (for bribe/extortion) Tk. 188 (per cft)

It is learnt that in the past, 16,000 to 18,000 cubic feet of timbers used to be allowed in each Jote permit. But at the present time, it is known that 5 to 6 thousand cubic feet are allowed in each permit. There are four Forest Divisions in CHT. Earlier, permits for 60 to 70 lakh cubic feet per month were issued from each division, in other words, used to be taken from CHT to other districts. At present, due to declination in availability of trees, permits are issued for an average of 5 lakh cubic feet per month in each division or for taking out from CHT to other districts.

【 2.40 crore cubic feet timbers are smuggled out from 4 Forest Divisions of CHT. In Rangamati Hill District, the amount incurs through paying in bribe/ donation/ extortion/ office expense @ 188 Taka per cft, it comes around Tk 451.12 crore per year.

Accordingly, if permits for an average of 5 lakh cubic feet timber are issued from each division every month, it stands that 2.40 crore cubic feet timbers are smuggled out from 4 Forest Divisions of  CHT. In Rangamati Hill District, the amount incur through paying in bribe/ donation/ extortion/ office expense @ 188 Taka per cft, it comes around Tk 451.12 crore per year. Needless to say that this amount of bribery/ extortion/ office expense is spent only in case with timber business. Besides, there is also similar kind of bribery/ extortion/ office expense amounting to lakhs of crores in Taka behind the extraction of natural resources and business in bamboos from the forests of CHT.

In Khagrachhari hill district, the amount of bribery/extortion in timber business is more in comparison to that of Rangamati hill district. After applying for the Jote permit in Khagrachhari district, bribery/ extortion/ office expense starts with paying Tk. 2,000 to office of the Deputy Commissioner for the issuance of order letter for site inquiry.

During transportation of timber logs by road from Dighinala/Panchhari of Khagrachhari district to Dhaka, the bribe/ donation/ office expense has to be paid to 26 authorities including the government offices and authorities, truck associations, local government councils, various local associations, ruling parties etc.

The transaction flow of bribe/ extortion/ office expense in the holistic process from obtaining approval of permit to transportation of timber logs in Khagrachari hill district is given as follows:

Sl. Authority/Item Particulars
1 Kharha Marka 7,000 cft x Tk. 5
2 Pass Marka 7,000 cft x Tk. 23
3 Cutting order 7,000 cft x Tk. 17
4 DFO office 7,000 cft x Tk. 5
5 ACF office 7,000 cft x Tk. 7
6 In total cost of Tk. 162,000 for per permit on an average or Tk 23 for per cft to be paid for inquiry, field visit and food etc. at DC office, UNO office, Headman’s office (7000 cft timbers are issued in a permit).
7 Total cost of Tk. 66,050 per truck timber on an average or Tk. 183 per cft of timber to be paid at 26 government-private authorities along the road from Dighinala/ Panchari of Khagrachhari to Dhumghat Forest Outpost (average 360 cft of timber loaded in a truck).
8 According to the above information, the cost of bribe / extortion per cft of timber in Khagrachhari district is Tk. 263.

According to the information/data provided in the tables above, the cost of processing for approval of permit, measuring, cutting and transporting the timbers, in Khagrachhari Hill District, stands Tk. 263 per cft payable as bribe/ donation/ office expense to the government offices and various other authorities. This amount is one and half times more in comparison to that of Rangamati hill district.

Notable that the process of taking bribe or extortion where the DFO extorts three times (a total Tk. 12 per cft comprising of Tk. 5 for cutting order, Tk. 5 for D Form and Tk. 2 for RTP respectively and the Range Officer extorts two times (a total of Tk. 23 epr cft comprising of Tk. 20 for Pass Marka and Tk. 3 for RTP)) as bribe/ donation/ office expense. Therefore, in Rangamati Hill District, apart from the cost of transporting the timbers, the cost of timber stands Tk.188 per cft as bribe/ donation/ extortion/ office expense obligatorily payable to the government offices and other authorities – be it concerned ones or not.

On the contrary, the local armed outfits also impose levy on their part. They are alleged of collection of money from the business community, particularly from those who deal in forest resource business. It has been observed that once levy/extortion is realized from a particular business man dealing in timbers, they do not collect for the second time from the same person on the same goods while passing the other Check Posts under their control and this they apply irrespective of ethnicity, religion and community. But however, bribe/ extortion/ office expense is mandatorily payable to every table while moving the timber documents from one table to another table in all the government offices and authorities. The Forest Department is probably the illustration of worst kind to collect extortion from a same person on the same goods at different times, such as, process of obtaining approval, measuring, marking, cutting, documenting and transporting along the Check Posts – be it waterway or road transport. So, how can those who are in state-power starting from the army-BGB-DGFI authorities to the bureaucrats in administration and the ruling party leadership could be vocal against such a honey-sucking-circle in the CHT?

That is why, no authority of the Forest Department, various government departments and the army-BGB authorities are interested to be vocal against such huge amount of bribery or extortion. Despite, the army, BGB, civil bureaucrats and the ruling leadership, themselves, are involved in the heinous process in person extorting around four and a half hundred crore of Taka incoming out of the forest resources business alone, but interestingly, they fire cannons against extortion of only Tk. 40 crore (according to the daily Manabzamin) realized by the regional political parties! That is why the Bengali proverb goes: “Mother of a thief shouts big.”

Although permits are issued in the name of Jote plantation but most of the timbers are procured and smuggled from the government reserve forests basically in collaboration with the forest department and state forces posted there, let alone organized plundering of forest and natural resources by the quarters of vested interest and consumption of bamboos by the Karnafuli Paper Mills over the last 60 years. As a result of such unprecedented corruption in the army, law & order and intelligence agency forces, local administration and the ruling party local leadership, the forest and natural resources of CHT are rapidly getting depleted. Thus, how the ecological balance and biodiversity are rapidly deteriorating.

As a result of depletion of forest and natural resources, such as, trees, bamboos and stones, the streams and springs in the hills are drying up. It is astonishing enough that the indigenous Jumma people are being blamed for denudation of forests and natural resources and destruction of biodiversity in CHT region accusing them of farming Jum, hunting of wild birds and animals including unnecessary cutting down of trees and bamboos.

To be continued…..

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