It’s really astonishing how the chairman of the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission is conducting hearing of cases and expressing his frustration over the indigenous leaders not attending the meetings.
Former Justice Khademul Islam, a very much disputed personality who has been accused of taking many controversial acts, Tuesday said the commission would use special power under the act of the commission, if needed to resolve the issues.
Mentionable, the government is currently amending the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act of 2001 to make easy the solution to the land-related problems that exist since the signing of the 1997 peace Accord between the government and Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity to end a decade-long guerrilla war.
The commission chairman blatantly claimed that the commission members including the circle chiefs and regional council chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma alias Santu Larma were not assisting him in resolving the disputes, reports UNB.
The other indigenous representatives of the committee are Khagrachhari Hill District Council Chairman Kujendra Lal Tripura and Khagrachhari Circle Chief (Mong Raja) Saching Prue Chowdhury.
The indigenous leaders say they will not sit until several sections of the act are revised. It is currently awaiting the cabinet nod and then will be passed in parliament.
Khademul Tuesday said hearing on 48 cases has already been completed and the dates for the next hearing have been fixed on May 23-24.
With ruling party lawmaker Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury in the chair, the CHT Peace Accord Implementation Committee on December 26, 2010 had suspended all activities of the land commission, including hearing of the land dispute cases until the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, 2001 is amended.
Protests brewed against the activities of the commission after its chair pushed for carrying out a cadastral survey before the settlement of land disputes.
Khademul on February 28 said the commission had selected 3,000 cases for hearing.
He claimed that the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001 was a complete and independent one and that it was enough to resolve the land disputes in the region.
The CHT Commission the same day in a statement signed by three co-chairpersons of CHT Commission, including Sultana Kamal, alleged that Khademul had unilaterally declared a resumption of the hearing despite the disagreement of the other members.
The statement added such a declaration by the commission was a violation of the provisions of the 1997 CHT Peace Accord as well as the decision of the CHT Peace Accord Implementation Committee.
Earlier on February 21, indigenous leaders reiterated their demands for the complete implementation of CHT Peace Accord and to amend the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission (CHTLDRC) Act 2001.
They also demanded removal of CHTLDRC Chairman Justice Khademul and appointment of a “competent justice” in this post.
At a press conference in Rangamati, the leaders accused the CHTLDRC chief of being autocratic and three lawmakers of the hills, Dipanker Talukder, Bir Bahadur and Jatindra Lal Tripura, of opposing the treaty’s full implementation and land dispute solutions.
Khagrachhari Headmen Association President Shaktipada Tripura read out the keynote paper at the event where CHT Regional Council member Gautam Kumar Chakma and CHT Citizens’ Committee President Gautam Dewan were present.
Although the accord implementation committee gave an assurance that a bill seeking amendment to the act would be placed in the first parliament session of 2011 but it was yet to be finalised.
A year after on January 22, 2012 the committee accepted all the 13 proposals for amendment to the act and sent them to the land ministry.
A meeting between the land and the CHT affairs ministry on Wednesday agreed on 10 proposals and sent it back for more clarification on the remaining three proposals, the CHT affairs secretary, Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, said.
The commission chairman, a retired Supreme Court judge, said neither the accord implementation committee nor the government had informed him of the move to amend the act regarding the commission or sought his opinion. He also said that he was aware of the points the hill people were seeking amendment to.
He also said that none on the committee or of the government had any authority to stop the commission’s activities. ‘It was not even true that the implementation committee had stopped our activities. You can see the decisions of the committee. They cannot do it. It is out of their jurisdiction,’ he said.
Khademul was of the opinion that things which were absolutely legal affairs were being politicised to protect vested interests of ‘certain’ groups.
The commission chair finds the demand for amending the act was delayed. ‘If any amendment is required, it should be done before forming the commission. Once it is formed, it cannot sit idle,’ he said.
He also said that if the act was amended in keeping with the demand of the hill people, it would go against the basic character of the CHT accord which was signed under the framework of the country’s constitution. ‘It should be kept in mind that nothing against the constitution should be done.’
Troubles began in the region after indigenous communities, led by Chakma leaders, took up arms in the 1970s in protest against the government of a newly independent Bangladesh for its “inaction” over key demands.
The demands included decommissioning the Kaptai hydroelectric project and restoration of land rights. The Kaptai Lake, built in the 1960s, inundated the palace of the Chakma King and vast tracts of land displacing thousands of people.
Large numbers also fled across the border to India for safety during the two decades of insurgency following the army’s deployment in the region.
The much-debated commission was set up in 1999, two years after the peace accord was signed. It remained stalled since May 2011 due to complications over applications for resolving land disputes and the land survey issue.
Several organisations in the CHT have long been demanding amendment to the land law, survey of lands and implementation of the guidelines worked out for the hill tracts.
The long-awaited survey is supposed to be carried out in line with the 1997 CHT Peace Accord to verify the claims of indigenous people who had fled to India during decades of strife. They returned home after the signing of the peace accord.
The Land Commission, headed by a retired justice, was first formed in 1999. The government also enacted the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001 for functioning of this commission, and resolve the land disputes.
The ‘fourth’ Land Commission, comprising 13 members and led by Khademul, was formed in 2009 and initiated the land survey to resolve the ongoing land disputes. But it faced opposition from the indigenous organisations, the Rajas of three circles and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, saying that the survey should come after amendments to the related laws.
But convenor of the Peace Accord Implementation Committee and deputy leader of the House Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury on May 5, 2 011 in a letter to the commission chief urged to keep suspended its activities until the commission law was amended.
A special UN Rapporteur in a recent study on the CHT issue said the commission was lagging behind for a number of controversial decisions.
Lars-Anders Baer at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in end May said lands of a good number of refuges were yet to be returned, while internally displaced Jumma families could not be rehabilitated.
Chakma Raja Devasish Roy at the session said the commission’s chairperson had unilaterally decided to carry out a land survey, and “did not include the indigenous people in that survey. Instead, it directly dealt with land disputes”.
Law minister Shafique Ahmed at a seminar on June 8 said the Land Commission had been formed to legitimise the rights of indigenous people.
He said no one could capture the lands owned by those people in the CHT, “since you’ve been staying there for generations”.
“Steps will be taken in your [indigenous] favour if the existing laws are found lacking,” minister Shafique added.
On May 2, 2010, the High Court asked the government to explain why an order to conduct a land survey in the CHT to stop land disputes should not be issued.
Tensions flared up due to incidents of land-grabbing, culminating into the Apr 20, 2008 arson attack by Bengali-settlers with military backing that led to arson attacks on 70 tribal residences. Similar violent incidents are still seen in the region between the indigenous people and the Bengali settlers.
National Human Rights Commission chairman Mizanur Rahman on Dec 29, 2010 observed that the prevailing ‘mistrust’ about land in the CHT needed to be resolved.