Govt follows military policy, instead of political solution to the CHT crisis, says PCJSS

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Hill Voice, 2 December 2020, Special Report: At present, instead of solution to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) problem by political and peaceful means, indeed, means of military solution to the crisis has been chosen by the Sheikh Hasina-led present government like the earlier successive governments and militarization in CHT has been escalated by this time to unbearable extent. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) put this opinion in the report published on 2 December 2020 on the of the occasion of the 23rd Anniversary of CHT Accord 1997. 

The PCJSS report says, the CHT Accord was signed between the government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2 December 1997, aiming at resolving the CHT crisis through political and peaceful means. Over the last 23 years, though some sections and sub-sections of the Accord have been implemented, yet two-third sections have been left untouched. Especially, the key issues of the Accord have been left either completely unimplemented or have been partially implemented with defects.

Implemented Issues of the Accord: The PCJSS did perform all deliverables as has been conferred by the Accord within the prescribed time limit. The PCJSS members in ranks and files returned to normal life after having deposited their arms and ammunition in four phases. On the other end, from among the issues implemented on the government side, among others, include: repatriation of the Jumma refugees from Tripura State of India; formulation of CHT Regional Council Act, three Hill District Council Acts and CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act; withdrawal of 100 temporary camps out of more than 500 temporary camps; formation of Interim CHT Regional Council and establishment of Ministry of CHT Affairs; formation of Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee, CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission and Task Force on Rehabilitation of India-Returnee Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; and transfer of some of the Subjects to the Hill District Councils, etc. 

Unimplemented Issues of the Accord: The unimplemented sections of the Accord inclusive of the Core Issues, among others, are stepping up legal and administrative measures to ensure preservation of tribal-inhabited feature of CHT; devolvement of political, administrative and economic powers and functions including the general administration, law & order, police, land & land management, forest & environment, tourism, development of communication system, etc. to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; formulation of Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules based on which to make voter list with the permanent residents and to hold elections in the CHT Regional Council and in the Hill District Councils; withdrawal of all the temporary camps including de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment); having the land disputes to be settled through the Land Commission, to return the lands under illegal possession to the actual owners of the Jumma people; rehabilitation of the India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their own lands through returning dispossessed lands and homesteads to the respective owners; employment of the permanent residents with priority given to the Jumma people in all jobs available in CHT; amendment of the laws applicable to CHT including the Police Act 1861, Police Regulation and CHT Regulation 1900 in consistence with the CHT Accord; and rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside of CHT with dignity and honor.

Procrastination of Government in implementing the Accord: Within the last 23 years, barring the 5-year tenure of the BNP-led four-party alliance government and 2-year tenure of Caretaker government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Accord-signatory government has happened to remain in the power for almost 16 years. It can clearly be said that the Hasina-led government has not moved forward in undertaking effective measures in implementing the core issues of the Accord despite being in the power for long years. 

Elections in the three Hill District Councils and CHT Regional Council have not yet been held since signing of the Accord. The Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules for holding elections in the Hill District Councils have not been formulated during the last 23 years. In this regard, the CHT Regional Council submitted two draft Rules at its own but the government has kept them hanging for years. Of the 33 functions, only 17 functions have been transferred to the three Hill District Councils. From amongst them, 12 subjects/functions have been transferred in incomplete form and with defects. But the government has kept spreading propaganda stating that 28 subjects have been transferred to each of Rangamati Hill District Council and Khagrachhari Hill District Council while 26 subjects have been transferred to the Bandarban Hill District Council. Most importantly, the significant functions/subjects, such as, supervision, preservation and development of law & order, land & land management, police (local), forest & environment, development of communication system, etc. have not been transferred till today.

Tourism subject is one of the subjects transferred with defect. This subject was transferred to the three Hill District Councils with only nominal authority in 2014. Interstingly, offices and tourism centers in CHT run by the Bangladesh Tourism Corporation or any other entity have not been transferred to the Hill District Councils. With exception to the tourism projects which can be self-financed by the Hill District Councils, other matters relating to tourism have not been vested under jurisdiction of the Councils which is contravening to the CHT Accord. Consequently, various government institutions and other authorities, army and business institutions have occupied the lands and homesteads of Jumma people and have been establishing and running tourism centers ignoring the CHT Accord and existing laws in CHT. As a result, the life and livelihood of the Jumma people have got endangered and now various socio-cultural problems have cropped up.

The CHT Regional Council Act was though enacted in 1998, the law has not been put into force to the proper order. Although supervision and coordination of all subjects supposed to be conducted by the CHT Regional Council including all development programs of the Hill District Councils and CHT Development Board, general administration and law & order in the three hill districts, formulation of laws in consultation with and as per advice of the CHT Regional Council, NGO activities and disaster & relief management, etc., but the Regional Council is yet to be entrusted with above-said powers and as a result, all the subjects have been left stunned. The Deputy Commissioners of three hill districts, in one hand, have been exercising all powers related to general administration on plea of merit conferred in the CHT Regulation 1900 as used to be earlier, while the three Hill District Councils and CHT Development Board, under indulgence of the government, have been executing their overall development programs ignoring supervision and coordination authority of the CHT Regional Council, on the other. Since formation of the CHT Regional Council, the project titled: “Construction of CHT Regional Council Head Office, Residence and Related Complex” has not been executed as yet.

As per the Special Administrative System envisaged in the CHT Accord, CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils comprise the highest administrative organs in CHT. The responsibilities and powers on general administration, law & order and all development programs have been entrusted with these Councils. To that end, the CHT Accord contains binding provisions for bringing amendment to all laws, Regulations and Rules applicable to CHT in consonance with the Accord. Hence, a proposal was placed on part of the CHT Regional Council to bring amendment to all the laws applicable to CHT including the CHT Regulation 1900, Police Act of 1861 and Forest Act of 1927. But no effective initiative was undertaken on government side. In turn, the powers vested with the general administration and law & order have been being exercised with misapplication against the Jumma people through the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police under direct control of the military authority in the three Hill Districts the practice of which is contravening to the CHT Accord and the laws enacted therefor.

Though the provision already contained in the CHT Accord directing to withdraw all the temporary camps, with exception to border security force and permanent army establishments (three cantonments in three district Headquarters and three cantonments in Alikadam, Ruma and Dighinala), the Hasina-led government has withdrawn only 100 temporary camps in last 23 years. More than 400 temporary camps are still functional in CHT. In addition, the Hasina-led government promulgated military rule titled ‘Operation Uttoran’ (Operation Upliftment) violating the CHT Accord in 2001. At present, the military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ and military supremacy of more than 400 temporary camps have become the main obstruction on the way to implementation of the Accord. 

On 17 July 2001, the Sheikh Hasina government passed the ‘CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001’ in the parliament without having consultation with PCJSS and the CHT Regional Council. This resulted in formulation of at least 14 sections contravening to the CHT Accord crippling the recognized rights and legal jurisdiction enshrined in the Accord. The Sheikh Hasina government, after returning to power in 2009, again began to play dilly-dally game in bringing amendment to the contravening sections lying in the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001. At last the law was amended in October 2016. But afterward, the Sheikh Hasina government, once again, has been procrastinating in formulation of the Rules of the Land Commission over the last years. The Land Commission has not been able to start judicial works on disputes of lands for not having the Rules framed as of today. Consequently, due to non-settlement of disputes over lands, conflicts and clashes between the Jumma and Bengali people over the land disputes have been taking place every now and then which is heightening day by day.

The Task Force was though formed but has not been fortified with sufficient fund, necessary manpower and equipment. It is also very true that, the task of ensuring rehabilitation of the India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their lands and return of the dispossessed lands to the actual owners have not been completed, due to the lack of government’s sincerity. Of the 12,222 India-returnee refugee families, 9,780 families have not got back their agricultural lands, grove lands and homesteads as of today. Besides, 40 villages belonging to the returnee refugees are still lying under illegal occupation of the settlers and some 54,000 refugees who had returned at own initiative and under 16-point package agreement have remained deprived of getting ration to this day. 

As the internally displaced Jumma families have yet not been rehabilitated, these displaced families are being obliged to lead a sub-human life in the inaccessible hilly terrains and forest being deprived of education, health facilities and development. In 1998, the Sheikh Hasina government undertook an initiative to rehabilitate the settlers recognizing them as the internally displaced persons violating the Accord. As it is an anti-Accord initiative of Hasina government, the rehabilitation process of internally displaced Jumma families got stunned. Despite decision taken in the CHT Accord Implementation Committee meeting, the government has not yet cancelled the anti-Accord directive to rehabilitate the settlers in CHT under status of internally displaced families. 

It is worthy to be mentioned that both the parties had an unwritten agreement that assured of rehabilitation of the settlers with dignity outside of CHT. The Sheikh Hasina government repeatedly pronounced her commitment to PCJSS assuring that the government would undertake proper initiative of the matter. After signing the CHT Accord on 2 December 1997 in Dhaka, while talking to the PCJSS representatives, Sheikh Hasina expressed her full assurance to them in this regard. But being so, the government has not undertaken any initiative to rehabilitate the settlers in the plains till today. Rather, the government has been observed to have been working for strengthening and expanding the settlers’ position.

Though the CHT Accord contains the provision that entrusts the Circle Chiefs with the authority of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) to the permanent residents of CHT, the Sheikh Hasina government issued a directive on 21 December 2000 by which the Deputy Commissioners have been empowered to issue PRC violating the terms of the Accord. Despite repeated demand, the Sheikh Hasina government has not yet cancelled the anti-Accord directive. As a result, the Deputy Commissioners have been giving away the PRC to the outsiders including the Rohingyas and by merit of PRC, it is hampering the rights of the permanent residents of CHT. It has been seen that the outsiders are enjoying various facilities including employment, enrollment in the electoral roll and land ownership, which is contravening to the Accord.

Though there has been given a commitment during a formal discussion assuring that on attainment of majority in the Parliament for amendment to the constitution, the Sheikh Hasina government would step up measure to ensure constitutional guarantee to the CHT Accord but the government did not act upon the commitment with effective measure to that direction. Especially, during 15th amendment to the Constitution in 2011, a demand was placed for ‘legal protection’ of the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts formulated in consonance with the Accord, as ‘Effective Laws’ under Schedule-1 of the Constitution. But the Sheikh Hasina government did not pay even a slight heed to the demand. In the 15th amendment of the constitution, an Article relating to ‘tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’ was added under Article 23(A) but still by merit of the addition, constitutional safeguard for the laws formulated as per the Accord has not been guaranteed.

Present Situation: At present, instead of solution to the crisis by political and peaceful means, indeed, means of military solution to the crisis has been chosen likewise the earlier successive governments and militarization in CHT has been escalated by this time to unbearable extent. Initiative has been undertaken to establish new camps in various strategic points, as a part of the aim. Wide range of propaganda and conspiring programs have been accelerated to identify the individuals and organizations including PCJSS engaged in the movement demanding for implementation of the CHT Accord as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’ and ‘terrorist organization.’ Military operations, such as, searching houses, arrest, extra-judicial killing in the name of ‘cross-fire’ in nook and corner of CHT, filing up fabricated cases, etc. have been escalated in these days. In one hand, articulation of ill-propagation on PCJSS as well as Jumma people and CHT has been continuing by the hired yellow journalists while through imposition of restriction on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, publishing news on human rights violation, indeed, CHT has been turned into a sieged region. Consequently, the news of military and para-military atrocities remain completely screened from coverage of the national media and sighting of the actual fact by the common people of the country. Thus, the situation of CHT has become unstable and conflicting likewise the situation prevalent during pre-Accord era.

It is through so-called development program (development engineering) destructive to the national existence and culture of the Jumma people, conspiracy of ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people is being executed. One-sided declaration of more than two lakh acres of traditionally possessed lands and Mouza lands of the Jumma people as reserve forest, thousand acres of lands given in lease to the outsiders, thousand acres of lands taken in acquisition in the name of establishing and expansion of military camps, illegal occupation of hundreds acres of hilly lands for army-run tourism centers, expansion of cluster villages of the settlers and continuous settlement of the outsiders, communal attacks upon the Jumma people and setting their villages in fire, violence against women and children, etc. are some examples through which the Jumma people are being evicted and have been evicted from their traditional lands and homesteads.

The army and intelligence forces in CHT give shelter to armed members of the JSS (MN Larma) known as Reformist, UPDF (Democratic) and Mog Party (an offshoot of Arakan Liberation Party) and deployed them in different places like Subalong Bazaar, Tintila of Longadu, Babuchhara of Dighinala, Kaptai of Rangamati and Rajasthali, Bandarban Sadar and Khagrachhari Sadar and they conduct terrorist actions upon the members and the supporters of the PCJSS that signed the CHT Accord. This is an ill-intention of the security forces to destablish peace and keep the Accord unimplemented. These terrorist groups are also carrying out extortion in lakhs of Taka under the eye of the security forces.

It is, thus, the Bangladesh government, instead of resolving the CHT crisis through political and peaceful means by implementation of the CHT Accord, has resorted to militarization and continuation of oppression and suppression of the CHT people to solve the CHT crisis like the earlier dictators. The Jumma people are being pushed apart, once again, as it was done in 1970s. The situation in CHT has turned unstable as in the pre-Accord period due to adoption of the wrong policy of the present government to push away the Jumma people, instead of the inclusive policy.

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