An environmental and livelihood crisis in Bandarban's Lama

Influentials are creating a crisis for marginalised villagers in three Jumiya neighbourhoods
Photo: Collected

Langkom Mro Para, Joychandra Tripura Para and Rengen Mro Para are three Jumiya neighbourhoods located in the Soroi union of Bandarban's Lama upazila. They are home to 39 Jumiya families whose main occupation is jhum cultivation, but they also work as day labourers to make ends meet. Despite working hard, there is little comfort in their lives. According to locals, the influential Lama Rubber Industries Ltd has been disrupting their day-to-day lives, which is why the names of these three neighbourhoods have made headlines in recent times. 

On April 26 this year, about 400 acres of jhum orchards and natural forests in the area were set on fire, forcing the 39 Jumiya families to suffer from acute food shortage. This also damaged the natural environment and wildlife. Locals alleged that the people who started the fire were from the Lama Rubber Industries. After the incident was widely reported in the media, the local administration and other authorities finally woke up. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) formed committees to investigate the incident. People from across the country came forward with food assistance for the people of these three neighbourhoods.


During that time, I visited Lama for the first time as a member of a citizens' group in May. We became particularly worried to see the malnourished, sick children in these neighbourhoods. We spoke with a number of children of school-going age and learnt that most of them did not go to school. The overall quality of life of the residents was not very promising – it was evident that the population was suffering due to poverty. We witnessed an acute shortage of safe drinking water. We also learnt that people of all ages often suffered from diarrhoea, and death by diarrhoea was quite common in these neighbourhoods. People here have been literally living in darkness as they are not connected to the national power grid. 

Even before the effects of the fire faded, a group of terrorists attacked Rangdhajan Tripura, an organiser of Bhumi Rakkha Andolon in Soroi union, in July. He received treatment at Chattogram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) for several days for head injuries. What happened next worried us even more. On September 6, a stream in Rengen Mro Para – the lone water source in the neighbourhood – was poisoned, killing crabs, shrimps and small fish of various species, according to a report by The Daily Star. People of the Mro villages could not use the water for about a week and somehow survived by sharing what little water they had stored previously. In both these incidents, allegations were raised against Lama Rubber Industries.

On May 20, when we visited the three neighbourhoods, we promised to build a pre-primary school for the underprivileged children. We ran a long campaign from June to September 7 on social media to raise funds for its construction, which we decided would begin on September 17 – Education Day. People of the three Jumiya para also started taking preparations accordingly. I, along with two professors of Dhaka University, Dr Sadeka Halim and Robayet Ferdous, Chief Executive of Nagorik Udyog Zakir Hossain, and poet Shahed Kayes, prepared to go to Lama.

As the date neared, vested quarters started spreading propaganda on Facebook using many accounts, a number of them anonymous. One quarter in Lama said our team would not be allowed to enter Soroi. They spread a rumour that the CHT Commission headed by Sultana Kamal would come to Soroi, but they had nothing to do with our delegation. Under such circumstances, we reduced the size of our team. Only Zakir Hossain, Shahed Kayes and I left for Soroi from Dhaka. But we could not reach our destination. On September 17, the road leading to the three para was blocked. Our car was searched by people carrying sticks. 

Amid such a situation, we again learnt that miscreants had cut down more than 300 banana seedlings of a jhum farmer in Rengen Mro Para on September 24. Rengen Karbari, the chief of Rengen Mro Para, alleged that people associated with the rubber company felled the banana saplings. The news was published in the media and there was widespread criticism on social media. We also learnt that the people of the rubber company were allegedly obstructing the school's construction with assistance from police. They apparently made false allegations to the police that the villagers were building the structure on the company's land. But in reality, the location for the school is in the middle of the three neighbourhoods. The rubber company's plantation is far away from that place.

It is evident to us that the rubber company is quite influential. A lot has been written in the newspapers about their misdeeds, yet no one can touch them. We have yet to hear of any legal action taken against them for their many misdeeds. It seems the rubber company's main goal is to evict the residents of the three Jumiya neighbourhoods. It is most unfortunate that 25 years after the signing of the CHT Peace Accord, the people of these three Jumiya para are still living in fear of being evicted. Had the CHT Peace Accord been implemented, such incidents would not have happened, and these people would have gotten back their land rights. Also, if the CHT Land Commission could carry out their activities properly, these people would have ownership of their land. 

However, the NHRC is working to protect their rights. We learnt that the Bandarban zilla parishad has questioned the legality of the lease given to the rubber company in their investigation report on the April 26 fire. The lease was granted to the company without the consent of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council and Bandarban Hill District Council, which is a clear violation of the CHT Accord and the country's law.

It is clear that an influential quarter in the region doesn't care about the CHT Accord and the laws created accordingly. By flouting the law and ignoring the decision of the NHRC, they have been pushing the people of the three neighbourhoods in Lama's Soroi union into an extreme livelihood crisis. We want this crisis to end once and for all.

Dipayon Khisa is information and publicity secretary at Bangladesh Adivasi Forum.


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