Hill Voice, 22 April 2020, Bandarban: While the perilous coronavirus (COVID-19) reigns over the whole country, in Bandarban of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the barbarity of MS Golam Kibria Shamim alias GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu, the outsider-land robbers and masters of eviction of the indigenous Jumma people has not been put to stop. The goons of Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Ltd owned by them have allegedly set ablaze more than five thousand rubber plants planted by the working Jumma villagers on 18 April 2020. It says that many mango and banana trees have also been burnt to ashes in this incident.
Verification with the local sources has confirmed the incident to have been a fact. It is learnt that the Officer-In-Charge of Bandarban Sadar Police station refused to register the case when the sufferers and Birendra Tripura, the Karbari (Village Head) of Saingya Tripura Para had met the authority to file a case on last Sunday.
The Officer-In-Charge advised the villagers to inform the incident to the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) of Bandarban district, Md. Shahidul Alam. But when the villagers went to the ADC’s office to meet him, they could not meet him as he was not available. On the other hand, while communicated over phone, the villagers were informed that the ADC was busy.
A fact-finding search reveals that indeed, the goons of GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu had set the rubber plantation and fruit garden in fire with a mean objective to evict the Jumma people and occupy their lands and homesteads illegally. Meanwhile, several hundred acres of lands of the local Jumma people have already been grabbed illegally to construct tourist resorts and luxurious hotels by way of intimidating, conspiring and having managed the local ruling party leadership and the people sitting in the administration. As a result, many indigenous Jumma families of this area had to abandon their ancestral lands and homesteads.
Despite repeated allegations put by the local people and publication of detail reports in the national dailies, no effective measures have been taken on part of the government and local administration. On the contrary, the local leadership of the ruling party has been found to have given a clean chit in favor of GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu.
It has been learnt that earlier in June 2019, people of GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu, had set fire in the rubber plantations of the Jumma villagers. By then, while the village head of Saingya Tripura, Birendra Tripura had informed the police about the incident, on contrary, the police told the Karbari that a case of illegal trespassing in the company garden had already been filed with the police station against the villagers – Karbari added.
It is of worth mentioning that on 29 January 2019, Jasim Uddin had filed a false case with the Bandarban Sadar Police Station alleging against 4 Jumma villagers to have trespassed into their garden. Accordingly, the police held Paincha Thoai Marma, Headman and his son including Surjya Sen Tripura of Saingya Tripura Para under that case.
On 9 June 2019, villagers of several inhabitants submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban Hill District against the Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Limited alleging forcible occupation of their Jum-cultivation lands, blazing their rubber plantations and harassing by way of filing up fabricated cases. But no action has been taken against the Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Limited by the administration.
Earlier, in the face of atrocities of state ruling power of GK Shamim and atrocities offered through the Sylvan Wye Resort, the Sangai Marma village had already been evicted. Grabbing of lands belonging to the Jumma people of adjacent area has been being illegally occupied without any remedial measure. Right now, 170 indigenous Jumma families of Saingya Tripura Para, Laimee Para and Hatibhanga Para are under threat of eviction. It is learnt that the officials of Sylvan Wye Resort have already illegally occupied 250 acres of lands belonging to the adjacent indigenous villagers.
Despite informing the issues to the administration repeatedly, the whole affair is kept locked within ‘investigation’ and thereby the Resort owners have been being provided opportunity to grab the lands without any hindrance. Even, in some cases, the Sylvan Wye Resort owners have been defying the orders of the administration completely. It has been learnt that GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin have allotted approximately 1.0 acre of lands from their illegally occupied portion of lands for the police to construct two-storied building for the police post as to manage the police administration in their favor and also to ensure their security. Apart from it, it has been also known that they gave 26 lakh Taka to the police authority for the same.
Earlier, the local suffering villagers met with the Prime Minister in November 2019 and urged her direct intervention by raising the matter details. To that regard, assurance was also given on part of the administration for solution of the problems. But so far no headway was made. The local inhabitants allege that by might of the ruling party, the Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Ltd. continues to occupy the lands by evicting the local Jumma people from their ancestral lands and homesteads without any bar.
It is to be mentioned that politically GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin have their roots in the ruling party Awami League. GK Shamim who was arrested from Dhaka under the weapon and money laundering cases on 20 September 2019 and also involved in illegal casino business, has been the Cooperative Affairs Secretary of Juba League (youth front of ruling Awami League) and also Director of Sylvan Wye Resort and Spa Ltd. While Jasim Uddin Montu has been Chairman of Sylvan Wye Resort and younger brother of Md. Nazarul Islam, ruling party Awami League MP from Constituency No-14, Chittagong. GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu, both are not permanent residents of CHT. As per the CHT Accord of 1997 and the Hill District Council Act framed in accordance with the Accord, without prior approval of the Hill District Councils, he/she who is not a permanent resident of hill district cannot be in competence to purchase lands and get settlement in the CHT.
It has been learnt that GK Shamim and Jasim Uddin Montu began their activity in Bandarban only 3 years back and they selected a site for a five-star hotel. At the very beginning, they had a very slow march in illegal occupation of lands. Firstly, they started with lending money as loan to the indigenous villagers of Saingya Para. When the villagers became incapable of refunding the loan, then they began to evict the villagers and occupy their lands. In this way, it was the Saingya Para – the last indigenous village among the 13 villages to have been evicted by the duo land grabbers.
It has been learnt that even after signing the CHT Accord in 1997, as of this day, lands belonging to at least 30 indigenous Jumma villages have been illegally occupied and the native peoples therein have been evicted in Bandarban district alone. According to the Bandarban Chapter of ‘Movement for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in CHT’ – an organization working on indigenous forest and land rights affairs, the villages of four Upazilas that have been illegally occupied are: Amtoli Mro Para, Mongbaichar Baching Marma Para; Charigya Tripura Karbari Para, Lulaing Mukh Mro Para and Sunong Mro Para under Lama Upazila; Rangajhiri Chakma Para, Dalujhiri Chakma Para, Badurjhiri Chak Para, Longadu Chak Para, Hamrajhiri Marma Para and Sapmara Jhiri Para under Naikhyongchhari Upazila; Weikling Para under Alikadam Upazila and Saingya Marma Para of Bandarban Sadar Upazila. Saingya Marma Para is the lastest indigenous village to have fallen prey to eviction. The last 6 families of this village were evicted in 2018.
According to the CHT Accord, no land, hill or forest including the leasable Khas lands under the controlled and within the jurisdiction of the Council shall be transferable by Ijara, settlement, purchase or sale, and acquired or transferred by the Government without prior approval and the consent of the Hill District Councils.
As per the CHT Accord, ‘Land and Land Management’ is a subject that falls under jurisdiction of the Hill District Councils. But as to this day, the subject has not been devolved to the Hill District Councils. On the other hand, the Deputy Commissioners, have been exercising the powers of transferring the ownership of lands, taking in acquisition, giving in leases and giving settlements in pursuance to the provision as shrined in the CHT Regulation 1900.
In one hand, for instance, the outsiders are illegally getting settlements under corruption in CHT by purchasing lands while on the other, thousand acres of lands are being taken in acquisition by way of expanding the forest areas and settlers’ cluster villages and establishment and expansion of army camps and military training centers.