Economy & Development in CHT

Development Interventions: Retrospect and Prospect

Primarily, socio-economy of CHT is based on indigenous agriculture, which is quite different from that of plains in terms of basis, land use, methodology and practices. The unique method of agriculture in CHT is known as ‘Jum cultivation’ or Swidden Cultivation (slash and burn). It is the basis of leading a common socio-economy by all the indigenous Jumma peoples living therein. But however, with the passage of time and changes that have been taking place in the natural environment and political arena with far reaching impacts over the centuries together, CHT has witnessed introduction and adaptation of plough cultivation, horticulture and agro-horticulture alongside the traditional Jum cultivation as means of livelihood in phases.

CHT also had undergone development interventions in different course of times under different rulers ever since commencement of colonization in south Asia. The development interventions carried out on the part of authorities, especially, during post-partition era and post-independent era respectively under Pakistani regimes and successive governments of Bangladesh have had far reaching impacts upon the peoples and their livelihood, tradition, culture and socio-economy. A look back over the forgone development interventions evidently shows that all those had or have been directed to serve interests of the ruling classes and dominating population; the peoples concerned had or have not been consulted or pre-informed for their consent; and they had or have not been duly compensated for the irreparable loss caused thereby. The development interventions undertaken by the successive regimes may be presented in the following manner: ?

Development Interventions by the Chief:
Towards the later decades of 19th century, the Chief planned to make use of the plain lands under his territory by introducing plough agriculture with the experienced people to be hired for the purpose from the neighboring plain district. Until this historical event, the CHT people had no interest in plough cultivation leaving the Jum cultivation ? their primitive livelihood centering which their tradition, culture, customs, rituals, practices and lifestyles took distinctive forms and shapes. Thus how the plough cultivation came into existence in CHT. This had a tremendous affect upon the population having close contact with the semi-urban communities. The native peoples who could comprehend importance of agriculture and develop farsightedness gradually switched over to new production system as their primary livelihood.

Development intervention during British Period:
After assuming revenue offices of the CHT Chief in Chittagong, the British imperial authority would collect revenues from the sources available with the ‘Corpus Mahal’ (CHT). Revenues include, apart from 501 mounds of corpus from the chief, tolls, freights and taxes from the lands including the revenues given by the ‘Sarbarakars’ (a British title awarded to a person assigned with revenue collection from the Jum cultivators) from south and north of CHT. Later on, the imperial authority inclined to enhancement of revenues by giving the lands in lease to the ‘Jaminders’ (Investors). To that end, the cultivable lands fallen under the Chief’s territory, were taken in acquisition under collectorate after re-demarcation and this has reduced the territory of traditional Chief of CHT. In addition, during the period from 1868 to 1871, the British authority also had an attempt to make the hill peoples take up plough cultivation as to increase the amount of revenue collection.

Pakistan Period: Generalization and Industrialization
Pakistan authority was the first to tailor the CHT Regulation 1900 to generalize CHT with rest part of the country ignoring the legal obligations and state responsibility towards the rights of indigenous peoples. In early 1960s, a hydro-electric dam was built across the River Karnaphuli at Kaptai after which it came to be known as Kaptai Dam. This led to industrialization in Chittagong and other parts of the country. Right below the dam, there emerged Karnaphuli Paper Mills Ltd., Karnaphuli Rayon and Chemicals Ltd., Eastern Pakistan Timber and Plywood Products Ltd., Silichery etc. However, the indigenous people of CHT have got very little benefit from these projects. It may be noted the quotation that goes: “…at one stage of its normal orientation the Karnaphuli Paper Mill employed only 14 hillmen out of the labour force of 3290 persons” (Bangladesh District Gazetteers: CHT, 1971 P.139 Line. 41-42) is the best illustration to show hill peoples’ participation in the mills.

However, such industrialization brought in dramatic changes in the Gross Domestic Products as had been estimated. But the advancement had been at the cost of submerging 54,000 acres of cultivable lands of the indigenous peoples in 125 Mauzas and uprooting some one hundred thousand peoples in 18,000 families. The affected families had not been redressed with proper rehabilitation and compensation. Consequently, some 70,000 Jumma indigenous peoples migrated to India in 1964. In this circumstance, Pakistan authority shifted thousands of Muslim Bengali peoples in Nakhyangchari and Lama of Bandarban (now, hill district) and Naniarchar and Longadu of Rangamati (now, hill district) of CHT.

Post-Independence Period: Development Intervention or Interception? 
The name that comes first is the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) to have engaged in the agricultural sector in CHT. The farmers were advocated to use chemical fertilizers to reap a healthy harvest every year and that way to reduce poverty. Secondly they were advised to use highbred seeds to reap bumper harvest every season. At the same time, they were also trained up and facilitated with pesticides. For all this, the fortunate among a large number of them were given small amount of agricultural loan through Agricultural Banks working at grass root level. Apparently, the government initiative for all this process has been a noble deed of actions to help the farmers attain sustainable livelihood. Of course, BADC has not been for only CHT but for the whole country to promote agriculture.

At the present time, Bangladesh Agricultural Expansion Department continues with the task throughout CHT. It is well established in terms of having technicians, equipments, logistics and official infrastructure. Now it is to be judged up to what extent the farmers and the society have been benefitted with the BADC programs. The ground reality points out the followings:-

    • (a) The cultivable lands have lost its natural fertility and have become dependent on chemical fertilizers. Even the lands of hill slopes have not been spared for which the hills have turned denuded of natural vegetation owing to loss of natural fertility;
    (b) The traditional seeds that were acid tested for the changing climate have disappeared and have been replaced by the highbred ones, which are available at sky-high price in the market upon which the peasant class has become helplessly dependent;

In this circumstance, the military despot, General Zia came up with a solution to the CHT crisis. He identified the CHT crisis as an ‘economic problem’ ? not a political problem and at the same time it should have not been held as a national problem, too. To that end he promulgated an ordinance named: CHT Development Board Ordinance, 1976 and soon the CHT Development Board (CHTDB) into existence with the GOC of 24 Infantry Division as Chairman of the Board. There has been a special Fund called ‘Pacification Program Fund’ handled by the army in favor of the counter-insurgent warfare in CHT. Now, CHTDB emerged as a statutory body to support the ethnic cleansing processes through militarization, infrastructure development for military purposes, settlement of Muslim settlers from plain districts and over all expansion of Islamic order in CHT. Financial support for CHTDB fund includes Asian Development Bank, World Bank, etc. The military regime, with a view to disintegrating the indigenous peoples, would encourage formations of ethnic-community-based organizations with financial support by CHTDB directly. In addition, there has been a counter-guerrilla-warfare project known as ‘Jautha Khamar Project’ (may be translated as Collective Farm Project) funded by CHTDB ? a project for coercive relocation of the Jumma failies in a ‘concentration camp’ ? a ditto of ‘Strategic Hamlet’ as it was seen to be a military practice in Vietnam war. It has been with direct support of CHTDB fund, the graphic indicator of settlement of Muslim settlers rose from hundreds to thousands and thousands to lakhs for the decades together.

However, of much later, it was General Hussain Muhammad Ershad to declare the CHT crisis as both political and national problem. But he did neither bring closure to the CHTDB nor convert the institution into a pro-people development agency. More irony is to be seen lying with the present Awami League-led government, which being a party to sign the CHT Accord in 1997, has recently formulated and enacted an act named: Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board Act, 2014 to continue role the Board as before.

The post-CHT Accord period has also witnessed development interventions by many Non-government agencies ranging from regional and national organizations to international organizations. Among them, worth mentioning is the prolong presence of United Nations Development Project-Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facilities (UNDP-CHTDF). The NGOs have contributed a lot to re-building of already devastated rural socio-economy, facilitating education, establishing community empowerment, women empowerment, arousal of consciousness on health & sanitation, advocacy for civil rights, human rights, women and children rights, preserving environment and opting for alternative and sustainable livelihood, enhancing management skill, exploring market, etc.

Development intervention: Conflicts of interest 
History of development interventions in CHT cannot be viewed as to have been pro-people always. The interventions undertaken by the regimes of different times had and have always been anti-ethnic peoples either covertly or overtly. The rules for regulating NGO activities are often seen imposing embargo upon development programs meant for advancement of ethnic minorities while there is strong sponsorship on the part of government to elevate the NGOs that run development programs specifically with the Muslim Bengali settlers. Many local NGOs have now met closure due to coercive policy of the government machineries including other factors. It may be recalled that during the previous term of the Awami League-led government, the CHT Ministry published out a list of local NGOs, which were supposed to be blacklisted for no valid reasons as such. Interestingly enough to note that the names of NGOs appeared in the said list are regarded as leading NGOs established by the native experts and they have already earned a good reputation for their excellent roles in different development sectors and transparent services to the peoples since their formations.

CHT has the ground to undergo development interventions in almost all sectors. The native NGOs have proved to have been best to reach the unreached, to serve the un-served and to include the excluded starting from the parry urban to the extreme rural and inaccessible hills in the region. Both national and international donor agencies have had the experience of working for the targeted peoples keeping the native NGOs by their side as their sub-partners. The international donor agencies, in consultation with the local councils or in collaboration with the local councils have been working with their programs in different sectors. On the other hand, the government does also have own agencies/machineries to implement own development programs, be it with a particular community or involving all the communities. But what matters most is the anti-ethnic-people role on part of government for which it cannot work for ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples. This is indicative that any development intervention supported by donor agency will be subject to interception.