Why a roadmap is of utmost importance
It has been 18 years since the CHT Accord was signed by the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS). It is most unfortunate that despite the promises made to the Jumma people over the decades, only 25 provisions of the CHT Accord have been realised as of now, with the core issues still unresolved.
The central issues of the CHT Accord include, among others, preservation of tribal inhabited features of the CHT region; transfer of all subjects and functions, as envisaged to be under the jurisdiction of the CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils, and their enforcement thereof; holding of elections to these councils; resolution of land disputes after inserting necessary amendments to the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 in line with the CHT Accord; rehabilitation of internally displaced persons and India returnee refugees to their respective homesteads with restitution of their lands to their rightful ownership; dismantling of all temporary military camps including 'Operation Uttoran'; cancellation of land leases given to non-residents; appointment of permanent residents to all services available in the CHT on priority basis; effecting necessary amendments to the CHT Regulation 1900, Bangladesh Police Act and all other relevant laws in accordance with the spirit of the Accord and; rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside CHT with due honor and dignity. However, these issues remain unimplemented.
Instead of undertaking effective and visible initiatives to implement the CHT Accord, the government has resorted to empty promises claiming that 'the Accord is being implemented' or that the 'government is sincere in implementing the Accord' or '80 percent of the Accord has already been implemented.' They have gone as far as stating that '90 percent of the Accord will be implemented during the present term of this government'. In reality, the government continues to maintain absolute indifference as far as the implementation process of the Accord is concerned, thereby stalling its execution.
One of the major obstructions to resolving the CHT issues lies in the government's lack of resolve to bring about necessary amendments to the contravening sections of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, 2001. As a way out, a 13-point amendment proposal of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, 2001 was adopted in a meeting attended by Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Advisor to the Prime Minister, Chairman of the CHT Regional Council and representatives of PCJSS and representatives of the Ministry of CHT Affairs on January 9, 2015 at the Chittagong Circuit House. The 13-point amendment proposal was also approved by the CHT Accord Implementation Committee in its meeting held on January 20, 2015 at the office of the Deputy Leader of Parliament and a high-level inter-ministerial meeting organised by the Ministry of CHT Affairs on January 28, 2015 in Rangamati. It was also decided unanimously that the Amendment Bill of the said Act will be placed before the Parliament during the winter session. But it is to be noted that even though several sessions of the Parliament, including the budget session were held after the end of the winter session, the Act, in the amended form, could not be passed till today. Despite consensus on the issue, the dilly-dallying tactics of the government in amending the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act is a manifestation of its lack of political will and sincerity in resolving the CHT crisis.
Despite tremendous opposition, the government, by virtue of its sheer majority in the parliament, has amended the Hill District Council Act raising the number of the Interim Council from existing 5 to 15. This unilateral action has allowed the Hill District Councils to engage in supposedly anti-Accord activities and corruption.
To add to the woes, while primary, secondary and college-level education is in doldrums, the rights and existence of the Jumma people is endangered and the political situation is unstable, the government seems bent on advancing its University of Science & Technology and Medical College projects in Rangamati, in spite of popular demand to suspend the project for the time being until a consultation process is initiated to assuage the apprehensions of the local people. But defying popular demand for a dialogue, the authorities of these institutions have started taking classes under 24-hour police and army protection.
Despite strong protests, the government has been implementing directives of the Ministry of Home Affairs that include imposing restrictions on foreigners' visit to the CHT and on persons from foreign/national organisations from talking with the Jumma people without the presence of people from the administration / law enforcing agencies; transferring the Jumma police personnel to the plains from CHT and entrusting the overall responsibility of coordination of law and order upon 24 Infantry Divisions of Chittagong. In recent days, the army has intensified search operations, arrests, detention, political intimidation, etc. in the CHT.
Besides, suppression and oppression of the indigenous peoples and minority communities - including communal attacks, killings, rapes, and abductions aimed at grabbing their lands - are on the rise all over the country. Especially, in recent times, the danger of violence against indigenous women and children has increased at an alarming rate. A staggering figure of 55 incidents of violence against indigenous women and children has been reported from January to November 2015. There are allegations of involvement of many powerful influential members of the ruling party in forcible grabbing of lands belonging to the indigenous and minority communities.
As is the case with any other nation, the Jumma people do not want to see the extinction of their national identity. They do not want to be evicted from their land and territory. They want to live as proud citizens of this country with their national identities, fundamental rights and self-dignity intact, while living in their ancestral lands and territories. It is through signing the CHT Accord that the Jumma people have reasserted their willingness to live in the country as citizens with their individual and unique identity. Taking so much time to implement the historic CHT Accord and above all, the ill-conceived activities of the government as well as the ruling class to carry forward the anti-Jumma-interest activities can never yield anything good.
The government is escalating the use of law enforcement and security forces day by day to thwart the Jumma peoples' movement against programmes which are in conflict with the Accord and the Jumma interest. If the government fails to attach importance to the sense of deprivation of the Jumma people, their hopes and inspirations, and instead continues to use state machineries and power to suppress the democratic movement of the Jumma people, there will be no point of return for the Jumma people.
The CHT crisis is both a national as well as a political problem. Hence, for the greatest interest of the nation, there is no alternative but to fully implement the CHT Accord. Merely expressing solidarity with the movement for the implementation of the CHT Accord is not enough; forces that belong to democratic, secular and progressive political parties, organisations and societies should come forward with supportive programmes.
We also call upon the present grand alliance government to ensure speedy, proper and full implementation of the CHT Accord, as well as declare a timeframe based work plan or roadmap aimed at proper implementation of the CHT Accord immediately. It should give priority to the issue of devolving all powers and functions to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils, withdrawal of all temporary camps including 'Operation Uttoron' that legitimises military domination over civil administration, resolution of land disputes by amending the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, rehabilitation of Jumma refugees and IDPs and amendment of concerned laws and regulations, including CHT Regulation 1900 and Bangladesh Police Act. Finally, it must undertake legal and administrative steps to preserve the Jumma-inhabited features of the CHT region.
The writer is one of the signatories of the CHT Accord and President of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti.