Mro community from Bandarban now faces daunting challenges of loss of ancestral land and forced urbanisation. People of this community are protesting the construction of a five-star hotel and tourist spot namely, "Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park" in the Chimbuk area of Bandarban. Protesters have claimed that the private company Sikder Group along with a welfare organisation, is orchestrating the encroachment of around 800-1000 acres of land. Such initiative would directly jeopardise six villages of the Mro community, leaving around 10,000 jhum farmers landless and unemployed.
In the CHT areas, tourism centers have been built without the consent of indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands. Land grabbing explicitly violates their civil and political rights and the principle of free, prior, and informed consent. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) in its Article 10 explicitly lays out that indigenous people shall not be ejected from their lands. Moreover, Article 26(1) of the Declaration specifies that indigenous people have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally possessed.
The right to property is a fundamental right in Bangladesh as embodied in Article 42(1) of the Constitution. It asserts that every citizen is entitled to acquire, hold, transfer, or otherwise dispose of property, without being compulsorily acquired or nationalised or requisitioned save by authority of law. No one, under any circumstances, shall be deprived of this right.
In 2015 alone, 5,216 acres of Indigenous land was grabbed by new settlers, private corporations, and welfare organisations. Approximately 65,000 Indigenous people have been internally displaced in this region. The laws governing land rights of indigenous people in the plains are contained in the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950 and in the CHT, is contained in the CHT Regulation, 1900 and many other laws enacted in the period ensuing the CHT Accord, 1997. Though the Government claims that 48 out of 72 provisions of the CHT Accord have been implemented, the truth is that the figure stands at 25 only. Besides, indigenous people have custom based title rights, and the customary laws are not recognised in the existing legislation. Considering the customary right, there can be no khas land or state-owned land in the Chittagong Hill Districts (CHD), because they are owned by the indigenous people. The land administration system is also different in each Upazilla which causes ambiguity in terms of comprehending the laws and regulations.
In a relevant case of- Awas Tingni Community vs. Nicaragua, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that Nicaragua had breached the right to judicial protection and the right to property of the community. To determine property right, the Court looked to the Constitution of Nicaragua which recognised communal property rights. As a remedy, the Court required Nicaragua to adopt measures to create an effective mechanism for demarcation and titling of the indigenous communities' territory, in compliance with their customary laws.
To put an end to their woes, ensuring co-operation among the three state organs as well as the accountability of the District Council should be taken into account. Establishing a uniform land administration system, recognition of customary laws, and proper implementation of the existing laws is needed. The luxury resorts and picnic spots in CHT that we indulge ourselves in glee comes at the price of displacement of indigenous communities. Local government has turned a deaf ear to their plight, this issue now calls for action from the Government.
Tasnimul Jannat Chowdhury & Fariha Anjum, Students of Law, University of Chittagong