Statement of 11 organizations of CHT on govt. relief during Covid-19 Crisis

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Hill Voice, 22 July 2020, Rangamati:  In the Joint Statement on the government-organized relief activities during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, 11 social organizations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) urged the government to take special measures in providing relief grants, access to mains electricity, safe drinking water, quality education, governmental healthcare services, along with other state-run services, wholly or substantially to the inhabitants of the remote areas.

On 21 July 2020, Tuesday, the call was made in a statement signed by Goutam Dewan, President of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee and Sudatta Bikash Tanchanga, General Secretary of the CHT Movement for Forest and Land Rights on behalf of 11 organizations, including Chakma Circle Chief Raja Devasish Roy.

In the statement, 11 civil society organizations of the CHT expressed their felicitations and gratitude to the Government of Bangladesh led by Jononettri Sheikh Hasina, for providing food aid, opportunities to buy rice at Ten Taka per kilo, and the Prime Minister’s Special Package Grant of 2,500 Taka per family, to deal with the Covid-19 Crisis.

It is said in the statement that despite the commendable relief programme undertaken by the government, on account of a number of problems created at the field-level, the food security needs of a significant part of the marginalized communities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts remain unfilled.

Firstly, a small part of the remote and semi-remote communities of the hill region have not received government rice aid at all.  On the other hand, in the greater part of these areas, although ten kilos of rice per family has been distributed through the Union Councils, this was, in most cases, just one time. Except for the headquarters areas of the three hill districts and their sub-districts, it was seldom seen that anything more than 15-20 kilos of rice were given out.  Judged against the daily family need of 2 kilos of rice, the allocation and distribution of rice are extremely insufficient.

Secondly, transportation of goods in the hill region is costly, whereas the allocations on the transportation of relief are inadequate. Consequently, a part of the relief is sold unlawfully and the rest is distributed by excluding some of the enlisted families. Conversely, none of the enlisted families are excluded, but the quantity of relief decreases from ten kilos to below five kilos. In five villages of the Bortholi Union within Bilaichari Sub district, relief grants of rice was below 2 kilos per family.

Thirdly, although the opportunity of buying rice at Ten Taka per kilo was availed of by families living in the villages and localities in or near the district and sub-district headquarters, it is a widespread belief that more than 90% of the families living in remote and semi-remote areas have been deprived of this opportunity.

Fourthly, a significant part of the population of the Hill Tracts is being deprived of the opportunity to receive the Prime Minister’s Special 2,500 Taka Package on account of the lack of National Identity Card (NID), and/or the lack of Cell Phone and Account, or the failure to buy cell phone sim cards in the name registered in the NID. Moreover, there are also allegations of discriminatory exclusion from the list concerned.

In the meantime, the Corona period has exceeded 100 days and there is no guarantee that this will not continue for another 100 days.

Therefore, 11 civil society organizations think that, in consideration of the aforesaid circumstances, it is urgently needed that the process of administration of relief grants be amended.

Moreover, the inhabitants of the remote areas are not only deprived of relief grants. They are also deprived of access to mains electricity, safe drinking water, quality education, governmental healthcare services, along with other state-run services, wholly or substantially. Special measures are therefore necessary to extend these services to these areas and to facilitate sustainable development therein.

11 civil society organizations also think, that it is not possible to provide adequate relief and attain sustainable development in the middle and long term, unless and until some of the special features and contexts of the region are accounted for. Therefore, whether in the allocation of relief in future or in interventions related to socio-economic development, it is urgently required that the following demands, facts and circumstances be given their due regard:

  • Until the permanent rehabilitation, in the long run, of the officially enlisted more than 90,000 internally displaced hill persons by the Task Force on Refugees and Displaced Persons, they deserve to be provided food aid or its equivalent in money, on the same terms as for the India-Returnee Hill People Refugees and the Bengali inhabitants of Cluster Villages, along with the supply of mains electricity, primary education, safe drinking water, basic healthcare and employment, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Disputes Resolution Commission should resolve their land-related disputes on an urgent basis, in order to accelerate their rehabilitation in their own homesteads.
  • The inhabitants of the Reserved Forests continue to live in a precarious condition on account of the denial of their land ownership and other land-related rights.
  • A large part of the inhabitants of the remote areas, including swidden (“shifting”) cultivators, suffer from food shortage in various degrees, whose intensity increases during the rainy season. Moreover, the burden of having to transport rice and other items from the market to their homes at the cost of 10-30 Taka per kilo, is akin to “rubbing salt on an open wound”.
  • A large part of the estimated 50,000 hill person workers of mills and factories in Dhaka, Chittagong and elsewhere, who have been sacked, or have become unemployed due to their return to their homes on account of the Covid-19 situation, should be provided, in the short run, with relief, by the government, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packing Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGPMEA) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), along with employment opportunities and cash payments.

11 civil society organizations include Chakma Circle Chief Raja Devasish Roy, Movement for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens’ Committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Headmen’s Network, Chittagong Hill Tracts Women Headmen & Karbaries’ Network, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples’ Network on Climate Change and Biodiversity (BIPNET), Bawm Social Council, Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha, Maleya Foundation, Bangladesh Marma Students’ Council (BMSC) and Tripura Students’ Forum.

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