As many as six Mro villages would be evicted and 116 Mro settlements would be adversely affected if the plan of Marriot Hotel and Resort is implemented, said speakers at a virtual conference yesterday.
The conference was organised by Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens' Committee, a group of eminent civil society actors protesting against the proposed establishment of R&R Holdings Ltd in Bandarban.
For the 5-star hotel, two dams have been proposed. One to create a reservoir for swimming and boating, while another will provide water for the operations, speakers claimed.
The speakers circulated a map of the project site at "Chandrapahar" to provide evidence about the far-reaching consequences of the project.
The committee showed that the swimming and boating site will be right adjacent to three indigenous Mro villages, and 4 sacred sites, while the reservoir for water supply is adjacent to one Mro village, a primary school and a Chengraong or cemetery.
In addition, these sites overlap with trekking trails and cable carways proposed under the project, presented the committee.
The reservoir for swimming and boating and the trekking trails will also overlap with the Kapru Para Village Common Forest used by 6 villages, showed the committee.
Raja Devasish Roy Wangza, head of the Chakma circle, said that if the project is implemented, the Mro people will be forced to leave their homes.
"The population of Mru has decreased over time, instead of increasing. There will be dams to be used by this hotel that will inundate lands," he said.
Gautam Dewan, President of CHT Land Rights and Protection Committee, pointed out that as it is, the Mro are an endangered community.
"In the 1970's the Mro indigenous community could be found from Rangamati to Sangu Reserve Forest, but currently they only live in Ale-kho-dong (Alikadam), Thanchi, Lama, Chimbuk and Naitong hills," he said.
The major resort existing in the area caused the eviction of 200 Mro and Marma families during the time of construction, he said.
The hotel will also have far-reaching consequences for the privacy of those who are dependent on the resources of the forest, speakers stated.
"The indigenous men and women use the natural water sources to bathe. We already observe tourists coming in from outside, and taking photos of them without their permission," alleged Raja Debasish.
"This project must be cancelled immediately. This work is completely inhumane and illegal. They have grabbed the land illegally," stated Dr Serajul Islam Chowdhury, Prof Emeritus at University of Dhaka.
Shaheen Anam, head of Manusher Jonno Foundation stated, "This project is against the CHT Peace Accord and I believe the state will not let this happen."
Anu Muhammad, professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University said, "This development stream is only for profit. This is not for people. The people in our tourism sector think that a 5 star hotel is needed for tourism. They think that eco-tourism is not possible. The local people are being threatened to give their permission."
Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik stated, "I urge the security forces to step back from such debated projects and get back to their primary job, which is to protect the country."
Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori said, "Our security forces have a specific job. Doing business with profit-making entities is against the nature of their job."
"I hope that we get the feeling that they made a mistake by taking this project," said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh.
"This is against the Peace Accord and CHT Regulation 1990. The Land Commission must be activated and used to dispose cases regarding disputed land in the area," said Shamsul Huda Executive Director Association for Land Reform and Development.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association stated, "This should be a biodiversity hotspot because this is an eco-sensitive area. This land should not be handed over to a hotel."
Late in November, when Farid Uddin Khan, chief coordinator of Sikder Group, was contacted about the allegation of land grabbing for the project, he claimed that the Group leased the land to construct the five-star hotel, giving Bandarban Zila Parishad (District Council) an eight-percent share.
His claim was then refuted by Mong Shwiching Chak, a member of Bandarban Zila Parishad, who told The Daily Star that the district council did not have any agreement with Sikder Group to this end.
A statement circulated separately by Raja Devasish stated that the Bandarban Hill District Council never held any legal title to the land that Sikder Group-R&R Holdings Ltd claim they have leased.
The statement pointed out that a at press briefing on last November 22, the chairman of the Bandarban Hill District Council, Kyo Sha Hla disclosed that the Council had purchased the concerned land from some 'hill people' and had then applied to the Ministry of CHT Affairs to obtain the legal title of the land, but that their prayer had been rejected.
"If it did not have any legal land, it could not have legally transferred the title to the land," said the statement.
"Firstly, according to the CHT Regulation 1900, the Council does not fall into any of the categories that may get land titles," it stated.
Secondly, the legal provision states that no lessee shall be allowed to transfer the land in any way without the consent of the deputy commissioner and Mauza Headman, said the statement.
"The holding of land by 'non-residents of district' is allowed only in exceptional circumstances," it said.