CHT Land Commission still remains dysfunctional

February 23, 2010

Non-functioning of the CHT Land Commission, designed to settle longstanding disputes over land ownership in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, is mainly responsible for the recurrence of ethnic violence in the once conflict-ridden south-eastern hills, said ethnic leaders and activists.
‘Repetition of violent incidents between the ethnic minorities and Bengali settlers could have been averted if the Land Commission had worked properly,’ Nikhil Kumar Chakma, one of the members of the commission, told New Age on Monday, three days after a bloody conflict in remote Bagaihat of Rangamati district caused the death of at least two people and the torching of many houses.
Dispute over land ownership is considered one of the main problems in the CHT where at least 11 violent incidents between the indigenous groups and Bengali settlers took place after the signing of the CHT treaty between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, a political platform of ethnic groups, 12 years ago.
The treaty brought to an end to the decades of bushwar for self-determination of the hilly people.
Those incidents have killed many people in the CHT, a home to at least 12 ethnic minority groups.
‘Had the governments in the past been sincere in upholding the rights of the indigenous people, land disputes would have disappeared,’ said Mesbah Kamal, a Dhaka University teacher who also works on the issues of ethnic minorities.
Tens of thousands of ethnic minority people had to flee their homes and take shelter in safer places, including India, because of the two decades of conflict in the area, and the Bengali settlers, taking advantage of their absence, moved in to occupy their lands, said locals.
The displaced people returned to the CHT after the signing of the treaty, but most of them are yet to get their ancestral lands back, according to the ethnic leaders.
Since the formation of the Land Commission in 1998 in line with the terms of the treaty, three retired judges served as its chairmen until December 2007 but could hardly make any visible progress in settling the land disputes.
The top post of the commission remained vacant during the entire two-year regime of the military-backed interim government after the death its chairman, AM Mahmudur Rahman who was a retired judge of the Supreme Court, on December 2, 2007.
The Land Commission — with the judge as its head and the chairman of the CHT regional council or his representative, the chairmen of three hill district councils, the circle
chiefs and the divisional commissioner or his representative as the members — held only one meeting in the first eight years of its life.
The present Awami League-led alliance government appointed Khadimul Islam Chowdhury, a retired judge, as its chairman. He convened only one meeting in January 2010, which did not yield any result as the ethnic leaders demanded amendment of the CHT Land (Disputes Settlement) Commission Act, a few provisions of which, according to them, go against the sprit of the treaty.
In the last 12 years none of the successive governments has taken any steps to appoint staffers for the commission, which has no permanent office building as yet, said Rupayan Dewan, a member of the CHT regional council.
He also questioned the unilateral decision by the commission’s chairman
to launch a cadastral survey of CHT’s land, saying that he has already lost the Jummu people’s faith by going beyond his jurisdiction.
Nikhil Kumar Chakma, also chairman of Khagrachhari Hill District Council, told New Age that the preset government, which during its last tenure between 1996 and 2001 signed the treaty, has taken a number of measures to make the Land Commission functional.
There will be three offices of the commission in the three hill districts — Khagrachhari, Rangamati and Bandarban — to deal with the land disputes, and arrangements for appointment of the staffers were underway, he claimed.
Presently the commission’s chairman and his secretary stay in Dhaka as there is no permanent office in the CHT, he added.
The commission’s chairman was not available for comment.

Courtesy of NewAgebd

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