THE Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997 was signed between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti on December 2, 1997 aimed at resolving the crisis politically and peacefully. It has been 22 years since the signing of the accord but the government has left unimplemented two-thirds of the clauses in the accord, including the ones involving core issues. The signatory party to the accord, the Awami League government, has not taken any effective measures to implement the treaty fully in its three consecutive tenures in office. Meanwhile, the political situation in the hill districts aggravated. In a way, the situation is marching backward to something similar to the pre-accord era.
The government is, however, working under a false impression and publicising the fact that 48 out of the 72 clauses of the accord have been fully implemented. Despite the accord containing provisions for a proper undertaking of lawful and administrative measures to preserve the historic, demographic composition of the place dominated by jumma communities in the hill districts, the government has been implementing various programmes that include the rehabilitation of the Bengali Muslim settlers, expansion of the cluster villages of settlers, fresh infiltration of outsiders with an intention to turn the jumma people into a minority, organised communal attacks on the jumma people, inclusion of outsiders in the electoral roll, issuance of permanent residence certificates by deputy commissioners to outsiders, illegal occupation of land and giving out land on lease to outsiders, etc.
As per the accord, with a view to introduce the special administrative system in the hill districts, the CHT Regional Council Act 1998 was passed and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act was amended in 1998. The laws exist only in paper. They have not been executed in a proper and complete form. As laid out in the accord, the 16 subjects and functions including general administration, law and order, police (local), land and land management, forest (except for reserve forests) and environment, tourism, secondary education and development of communication system have not yet been systematically handed to the regional and hill district councils. The matters are still handled by the district and upazila administration and the military deployed in the hill districts.
After 22 years of the signing of the accord, no initiative has been undertaken to hold the elections to the CHT Regional Council and the hill district councils. Electoral rules and rolls have not even been framed to hold the elections. As of today, the hill district councils have been made dysfunctional by running the interim hill district councils undemocratically, with party-nominated members. The hill district councils have, therefore, been turned into safe havens of anti-accord activities and corruption practice. Now, these interim hill district councils are used as a space to breed conspiracies against the accord.
Although 100 temporary camps were withdrawn after the signing of the accord, more than 400 camps are still in operation in the hill districts. Many of the camps withdrawn also returned on various grounds and excuses. In people’s perception, a kind of military rule has been imposed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in violation of the accord with enforcement of the Operation Uttaran in 2001. The way military personnel under Operation Uttaran work, intervening in affairs of general administration, law and order issues and land management development programmes, demonstrates their hegemonic presence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Although the Land Commission was formed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the resolution of the land disputes has not yet been achieved. In the face of constant movement for 15 years, the contradictory provisions of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 were amended but the rules of the commission has been kept hanging for three years. Without the rules, the legal work for the resolution of the land disputes has not begun. Furthermore, the allocation of adequate fund for the commission, the appointment of human resources and the establishment of branch offices in Rangamati and Bandarban have not happened. All this impedes the land recovery process of the jumma people. Eventually, the political conflict and tension arising from land problem have taken more complicated and violent turns.
The lease of land amounting to about 2,000 plots given to non-residents has not yet been cancelled. In addition, the deputy commissioners have illegally given away the traditional land and mauza land on lease to non-residents, violating the accord. As a result, the life and livelihood of the jumma people have fallen in extreme danger and jumma villages are now facing eviction one after another.
Despite the formation of a task force and the identification of 90,000 jumma families as IDPs, the refugees who returned from India and internally displaced people have not been rehabilitated. Consequently, the jumma refugees keep leading their life in uncertainty. Rations have not been provided for the internally displaced people despite the decision that has been taken in task force meetings. In addition, of the 12,222 refugee families who returned from India, 9,000 families did not get their land back and 40 villages belonging to the jumma refugees are still under settler occupation.
The government is implementing development programmes circumventing the clauses in the accord and compromising the interest of the jumma people. It is through these development engineering programmes that the jumma culture and identities are faced with further risk. Instead of restoring their land, they are further dispossessed. The jumma people are evicted from their land gradually by an unlawful occupation of land, illegal leases given to non-residents, initiatives to establish land port at Thega Mukh, plans for the construction of connecting road from Thega Mukh to Chittagong and border roads, establishment of luxurious tourism centres on forcibly occupied land, illegal declaration of reserve forests, rehabilitation of outsiders, including the Rohingyas, perpetrating communal attacks on the jumma people, setting their houses on fire, etc.
In the accord, the provision for issuing the permanent residence certificate is conferred on no one but the circle chiefs, but the CHT affairs ministry empowered the deputy commissioners in 2000 with the authority of issuing the certificates, violating the given provision. Despite repeated demands, the circular that empowered the deputy commissioners to issue certificates has not yet been cancelled. As a result, outsiders by collecting the certificates from deputy commissioners, have enjoyed unauthorised privileges. There is also a provision in the accord that jumma residents will be preferred for jobs available in the hill districts. In reality, that has not happened.
A litigation challenging the CHT accord was filed by someone named Badiuzzaman in 2000 and by advocate Tajul Islam in 2007. In both the cases, the government, being one of the respondents, has not undertaken any initiative for a speedy resolution of the proceedings with the Appellate Division. It could be concluded that one of the objectives of such dillydally on part of the government is to obstruct the accord implementation process.
The state machinery in association with the local ruling leadership, a vested arm, settlers and communal forces have continued with arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, taking detainees to camps and carrying out inhuman torture, searching houses in early hours of the day in the name of combatting terrorism. Having projected the people and organisations that are engaged in the movement demanding the implementation of the CHT accord as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’ and ‘arms-wielding criminals’, false cases are filed against them. They are arrested and, after release from the jail on bail, get re-arrested at jail gate in another false and fabricated case. In order to control the situation in the hill districts in accordance with their plan, the local ruling leadership in direct association with state machinery created a reign of terror for ordinary people while they provide armed quarters with shelter, indulgence and assistance. In this situation, the army’s search from village to village is nothing but a harassment of jumma people.
Unless and until the government abandons its intolerant and unaccommodating attitude to fulfil the demands of the jumma people engaged in a democratic movement and politically commit to the full implementation of the accord, the political situation in the hill districts would remain unstable.
Mangal Kumar Chakma is a writer, researcher and human rights activist.
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