Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti on the Occasion of the 23rd Anniversary of CHT Accord 1997
2 December 2020
A Few Words of the President
On the historic occasion of the 23rd Anniversary of Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord 1997, I extend my heart-felt greetings to all the countrymen and the permanent residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) belonging to Jumma and Bengali people.
Today, it is undoubtedly a historic day, an auspicious day for permanent residents of CHT. Yet there exists a question as to what extent this historic and auspicious day is well-corresponded to the overall situation of CHT. Since, all the matters of CHT including the general administration, law & order, development have been devolved to the military and intelligence authorities deployed in CHT and that the Jumma people are being administered, exploited, deprived and oppressed in colonial manner.
The CHT Accord was signed on 2 December 1997 aiming at proper resolution of the CHT crisis. It is due to non-implementation of the Accord precisely, even over prolonged 23 years, the overall situation of CHT has become unstable, worrying and disappointing today; and above all, the distance owing to disbelief and distrust between the rulers and ruled is getting widened gradually. The national life of Jumma people is overwhelmed with despair and despondency. Today, the Jumma people are distressed in thoughts of insecure and uncertain future. This aspect deserves to be pondered with special attention in greater interest of the nation. Hence, alongside the Jumma people, I would like to call upon the democratic, secular, progressive and leftist personalities, organizations and political parties to exert more pragmatic role towards implementation of the Accord for the sake of greater interest of the country.
Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma
President, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti
Status of Implementation of the CHT Accord
This day marks the 23rd anniversary of the historic CHT Accord that was signed between the government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on 2 December 1997, aiming at resolving the CHT crisis through political and peaceful means. Over the last 23 years, though some sections and sub-sections of the Accord have been implemented, yet two-third sections have been left untouched. Especially, the key issues of the Accord have been left either completely unimplemented or have been partially implemented with defects.
Implemented Issues of the Accord: The PCJSS did perform all deliverables as has been conferred by the Accord within the prescribed time limit. The PCJSS members in ranks and files returned to normal life after having deposited their arms and ammunition in four phases. On the other end, from among the issues implemented on the government side, among others, include: repatriation of the Jumma refugees from Tripura State of India; formulation of CHT Regional Council Act, three Hill District Council Acts and CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act; withdrawal of 100 temporary camps out of more than 500 temporary camps; formation of Interim CHT Regional Council and establishment of Ministry of CHT Affairs; formation of Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee, CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission and Task Force on Rehabilitation of India-Returnee Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; and transfer of some of the Subjects to the Hill District Councils, etc.
Unimplemented Issues of the Accord: The unimplemented sections of the Accord inclusive of the Core Issues, among others, are stepping up legal and administrative measures to ensure preservation of tribal-inhabited feature of CHT; devolvement of political, administrative and economic powers and functions including the general administration, law & order, police, land & land management, forest & environment, tourism, development of communication system, etc. to the CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils; formulation of Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules based on which to make voter list with the permanent residents and to hold elections in the CHT Regional Council and in the Hill District Councils; withdrawal of all the temporary camps including de facto military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment); having the land disputes to be settled through the Land Commission, to return the lands under illegal possession to the actual owners of the Jumma people; rehabilitation of the India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their own lands through returning dispossessed lands and homesteads to the respective owners; employment of the permanent residents with priority given to the Jumma people in all jobs available in CHT; amendment of the laws applicable to CHT including the Police Act 1861, Police Regulation and CHT Regulation 1900 in consistence with the CHT Accord; and rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside of CHT with dignity and honor.
Procrastination of Government in implementing the Accord: Within the last 23 years, barring the 5-year tenure of the BNP-led four-party alliance government and 2-year tenure of Caretaker government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Accord-signatory government has happened to remain in the power for almost 16 years. It can clearly be said that the Hasina-led government has not moved forward in undertaking effective measures in implementing the core issues of the Accord despite being in the power for long years.
Elections in the three Hill District Councils and CHT Regional Council have not yet been held since signing of the Accord. The Election Rules and Electoral Roll Rules for holding elections in the Hill District Councils have not been formulated during the last 23 years. In this regard, the CHT Regional Council submitted two draft Rules at its own but the government has kept them hanging for years. Of the 33 functions, only 17 functions have been transferred to the three Hill District Councils. From amongst them, 12 subjects/functions have been transferred in incomplete form and with defects. But the government has kept spreading propaganda stating that 28 subjects have been transferred to each of Rangamati Hill District Council and Khagrachhari Hill District Council while 26 subjects have been transferred to the Bandarban Hill District Council. Most importantly, the significant functions/subjects, such as, supervision, preservation and development of law & order, land & land management, police (local), forest & environment, development of communication system, etc. have not been transferred till today.
Tourism subject is one of the subjects transferred with defect. This subject was transferred to the three Hill District Councils with only nominal authority in 2014. Interstingly, offices and tourism centers in CHT run by the Bangladesh Tourism Corporation or any other entity have not been transferred to the Hill District Councils. With exception to the tourism projects which can be self-financed by the Hill District Councils, other matters relating to tourism have not been vested under jurisdiction of the Councils which is contravening to the CHT Accord. Consequently, various government institutions and other authorities, army and business institutions have occupied the lands and homesteads of Jumma people and have been establishing and running tourism centers ignoring the CHT Accord and existing laws in CHT. As a result, the life and livelihood of the Jumma people have got endangered and now various socio-cultural problems have cropped up.
The CHT Regional Council Act was though enacted in 1998, the law has not been put into force to the proper order. Although supervision and coordination of all subjects supposed to be conducted by the CHT Regional Council including all development programs of the Hill District Councils and CHT Development Board, general administration and law & order in the three hill districts, formulation of laws in consultation with and as per advice of the CHT Regional Council, NGO activities and disaster & relief management, etc., but the Regional Council is yet to be entrusted with above-said powers and as a result, all the subjects have been left stunned. The Deputy Commissioners of three hill districts, in one hand, have been exercising all powers related to general administration on plea of merit conferred in the CHT Regulation 1900 as used to be earlier, while the three Hill District Councils and CHT Development Board, under indulgence of the government, have been executing their overall development programs ignoring supervision and coordination authority of the CHT Regional Council, on the other. Since formation of the CHT Regional Council, the project titled: “Construction of CHT Regional Council Head Office, Residence and Related Complex” has not been executed as yet.
As per the Special Administrative System envisaged in the CHT Accord, CHT Regional Council and the three Hill District Councils comprise the highest administrative organs in CHT. The responsibilities and powers on general administration, law & order and all development programs have been entrusted with these Councils. To that end, the CHT Accord contains binding provisions for bringing amendment to all laws, Regulations and Rules applicable to CHT in consonance with the Accord. Hence, a proposal was placed on part of the CHT Regional Council to bring amendment to all the laws applicable to CHT including the CHT Regulation 1900, Police Act of 1861 and Forest Act of 1927. But no effective initiative was undertaken on government side. In turn, the powers vested with the general administration and law & order have been being exercised with misapplication against the Jumma people through the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police under direct control of the military authority in the three Hill Districts the practice of which is contravening to the CHT Accord and the laws enacted therefor.
Though the provision already contained in the CHT Accord directing to withdraw all the temporary camps, with exception to border security force and permanent army establishments (three cantonments in three district Headquarters and three cantonments in Alikadam, Ruma and Dighinala), the Hasina-led government has withdrawn only 100 temporary camps in last 23 years. More than 400 temporary camps are still functional in CHT. In addition, the Hasina-led government promulgated military rule titled ‘Operation Uttoran’ (Operation Upliftment) violating the CHT Accord in 2001. At present, the military rule ‘Operation Uttoron’ and military supremacy of more than 400 temporary camps have become the main obstruction on the way to implementation of the Accord.
On 17 July 2001, the Sheikh Hasina government passed the ‘CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001’ in the parliament without having consultation with PCJSS and the CHT Regional Council. This resulted in formulation of at least 14 sections contravening to the CHT Accord crippling the recognized rights and legal jurisdiction enshrined in the Accord. The Sheikh Hasina government, after returning to power in 2009, again began to play dilly-dally game in bringing amendment to the contravening sections lying in the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001. At last the law was amended in October 2016. But afterward, the Sheikh Hasina government, once again, has been procrastinating in formulation of the Rules of the Land Commission over the last years. The Land Commission has not been able to start judicial works on disputes of lands for not having the Rules framed as of today. Consequently, due to non-settlement of disputes over lands, conflicts and clashes between the Jumma and Bengali people over the land disputes have been taking place every now and then which is heightening day by day.
The Task Force was though formed but has not been fortified with sufficient fund, necessary manpower and equipment. It is also very true that, the task of ensuring rehabilitation of the India-returnee refugees and internally displaced Jumma families in their lands and return of the dispossessed lands to the actual owners have not been completed, due to the lack of government’s sincerity. Of the 12,222 India-returnee refugee families, 9,780 families have not got back their agricultural lands, grove lands and homesteads as of today. Besides, 40 villages belonging to the returnee refugees are still lying under illegal occupation of the settlers and some 54,000 refugees who had returned at own initiative and under 16-point package agreement have remained deprived of getting ration to this day.
As the internally displaced Jumma families have yet not been rehabilitated, these displaced families are being obliged to lead a sub-human life in the inaccessible hilly terrains and forest being deprived of education, health facilities and development. In 1998, the Sheikh Hasina government undertook an initiative to rehabilitate the settlers recognizing them as the internally displaced persons violating the Accord. As it is an anti-Accord initiative of Hasina government, the rehabilitation process of internally displaced Jumma families got stunned. Despite decision taken in the CHT Accord Implementation Committee meeting, the government has not yet cancelled the anti-Accord directive to rehabilitate the settlers in CHT under status of internally displaced families.
It is worthy to be mentioned that both the parties had an unwritten agreement that assured of rehabilitation of the settlers with dignity outside of CHT. The Sheikh Hasina government repeatedly pronounced her commitment to PCJSS assuring that the government would undertake proper initiative of the matter. After signing the CHT Accord on 2 December 1997 in Dhaka, while talking to the PCJSS representatives, Sheikh Hasina expressed her full assurance to them in this regard. But being so, the government has not undertaken any initiative to rehabilitate the settlers in the plains till today. Rather, the government has been observed to have been working for strengthening and expanding the settlers’ position.
Though the CHT Accord contains the provision that entrusts the Circle Chiefs with the authority of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) to the permanent residents of CHT, the Sheikh Hasina government issued a directive on 21 December 2000 by which the Deputy Commissioners have been empowered to issue PRC violating the terms of the Accord. Despite repeated demand, the Sheikh Hasina government has not yet cancelled the anti-Accord directive. As a result, the Deputy Commissioners have been giving away the PRC to the outsiders including the Rohingyas and by merit of PRC, it is hampering the rights of the permanent residents of CHT. It has been seen that the outsiders are enjoying various facilities including employment, enrollment in the electoral roll and land ownership, which is contravening to the Accord.
Though there has been given a commitment during a formal discussion assuring that on attainment of majority in the Parliament for amendment to the constitution, the Sheikh Hasina government would step up measure to ensure constitutional guarantee to the CHT Accord but the government did not act upon the commitment with effective measure to that direction. Especially, during 15th amendment to the Constitution in 2011, a demand was placed for ‘legal protection’ of the CHT Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts formulated in consonance with the Accord, as ‘Effective Laws’ under Schedule-1 of the Constitution. But the Sheikh Hasina government did not pay even a slight heed to the demand. In the 15th amendment of the constitution, an Article relating to ‘tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’ was added under Article 23(A) but still by merit of the addition, constitutional safeguard for the laws formulated as per the Accord has not been guaranteed.
Present Situation: At present, instead of solution to the crisis by political and peaceful means, indeed, means of military solution to the crisis has been chosen likewise the earlier successive governments and militarization in CHT has been escalated by this time to unbearable extent. Initiative has been undertaken to establish new camps in various strategic points, as a part of the aim. Wide range of propaganda and conspiring programs have been accelerated to identify the individuals and organizations including PCJSS engaged in the movement demanding for implementation of the CHT Accord as ‘terrorists’, ‘extortionists’ and ‘terrorist organization.’ Military operations, such as, searching houses, arrest, extra-judicial killing in the name of ‘cross-fire’ in nook and corner of CHT, filing up fabricated cases, etc. have been escalated in these days. In one hand, articulation of ill-propagation on PCJSS as well as Jumma people and CHT has been continuing by the hired yellow journalists while through imposition of restriction on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, publishing news on human rights violation, indeed, CHT has been turned into a sieged region. Consequently, the news of military and para-military atrocities remain completely screened from coverage of the national media and sighting of the actual fact by the common people of the country. Thus, the situation of CHT has become unstable and conflicting likewise the situation prevalent during pre-Accord era.
It is through so-called development program (development engineering) destructive to the national existence and culture of the Jumma people, conspiracy of ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people is being executed. One-sided declaration of more than two lakh acres of traditionally possessed lands and Mouza lands of the Jumma people as reserve forest, thousand acres of lands given in lease to the outsiders, thousand acres of lands taken in acquisition in the name of establishing and expansion of military camps, illegal occupation of hundreds acres of hilly lands for army-run tourism centers, expansion of cluster villages of the settlers and continuous settlement of the outsiders, communal attacks upon the Jumma people and setting their villages in fire, violence against women and children, etc. are some examples through which the Jumma people are being evicted and have been evicted from their traditional lands and homesteads.
The army and intelligence forces in CHT give shelter to armed members of the JSS (MN Larma) known as Reformist, UPDF (Democratic) and Mog Party (an offshoot of Arakan Liberation Party) and deployed them in different places like Subalong Bazaar, Tintila of Longadu, Babuchhara of Dighinala, Kaptai of Rangamati and Rajasthali, Bandarban Sadar and Khagrachhari Sadar and they conduct terrorist actions upon the members and the supporters of the PCJSS that signed the CHT Accord. This is an ill-intention of the security forces to destablish peace and keep the Accord unimplemented. These terrorist groups are also carrying out extortion in lakhs of Taka under the eye of the security forces.
It is, thus, the Bangladesh government, instead of resolving the CHT crisis through political and peaceful means by implementation of the CHT Accord, has resorted to militarization and continuation of oppression and suppression of the CHT people to solve the CHT crisis like the earlier dictators. The Jumma people are being pushed apart, once again, as it was done in 1970s. The situation in CHT has turned unstable as in the pre-Accord period due to adoption of the wrong policy of the present government to push away the Jumma people, instead of the inclusive policy.
Historical Backdrop of Chittagong Hill Tracts
During partition of India based on religious two-nation theory in 1947, the non-Muslim inhabited CHT was annexed to Islamic State of Pakistan. Afterward, the blueprint that was designed to turn the non-Muslim inhabited CHT into a Muslim-dominated region went on implementing. The British-introduced CHT Regulation 1900 was scissored to reduce its effectiveness. The Tribal Police introduced in 1881 was dismantled and the Inner-line Permit system was cancelled. The Muslim refugees coming from India were settled in CHT violating the provisions of CHT Regulation 1900. The most powerful strike that was dealt against the Jumma people was construction of the Kaptai Dam in 1960. At this, more than one lakh Jumma people got evicted from their homesteads and 40% arable lands got submerged under the Kaptai Lake. Consequently, the national life of Jumma people got overwhelmed with extreme disaster and great distress.
Bangladesh emerged as an independent state through blood-bathing struggle against ethnic suppression and exploitation of the Pakistani ruling class in 1971. The Jumma people nurtured a belief that, the ruling class of independent Bangladesh who fought against ethnic oppression would realize the plight of the Jumma people and move forward in establishing the political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Jumma people. Hence, with a high hope, the Jumma people under the leadership of M N Larma, placed a four-point demand of Regional Autonomy with own legislature to the government of just-independent Bangladesh. But it is too regretting to recall that the then ruling class of Bangladesh rejected the Jumma people’s demand for life with utter hatred. Not only so but also the other non-Bengali indigenous peoples of the country including the Jumma people had been constitutionally identified as ‘Bengali’ by nationality.
Nevertheless, without giving up the struggle, the Jumma people, under the leadership of PCJSS, continued to carry out democratic movement for self-determination. The Jumma people continued raising the issue of CHT with the entities from the ruling party to all the political parties and policy makers of the country including democratic, non-communal and progressive organizations and individuals.
But it is highly disappointing that having realized the plight of exploitation and deprivation of Jumma people, nobody came forward to establish their legitimate rights. Instead, all governments continued to adopt one after another communal and fascist repressive policies against the Jumma people which resulted in establishing three cantonments in Dighinala, Alikadam and Ruma in 1973. Emergency was declared throughout CHT. In the name of suppressing the Razakars and Mujahidins, various forms of oppression, persecution and torture were inflicted on the innocent Jumma people.
Thus, as a result of pushing away the Jumma people from their democratic movement, on the other hand, the rulers taking communal and repressive programs and above all, after assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, as all the avenues to speak out democratically for their demands got closed, the Jumma people found no option, but to oblige to plunge into hardline movement for assertion of their rights.
Like the Pakistani ruling class, the Bangladesh government began to rehabilitate more than five lakhs of Muslim Bengali people from plains in the lands and homesteads of Jumma people under the government financial support and planning and with direct assistance of the army. In 1980, military rule was introduced through promulgation of ‘Operation Dabanol’ (Operation Wildfire). Thus, instead of solving out the crisis, as a result of resorting to wrongful & ill-motivated policy on part of the then ruling class through exercising military atrocities, reducing the Jumma people to minority by way of giving illegal settlement to outsiders, eviction of the Jumma people from their lands and homesteads by illegal occupation of lands, causing to occur communal attacks, conducting massacres, so-called development under army control, arbitrary arrest, gross violence against women, etc., the situation in CHT got worsened from complex to more complex form.
At certain phase, the Bangladesh government obliged to opt for dialogue with the PCJSS with an aim at settling the crisis politically and peacefully through discussion as a result of irresistible movement of Jumma people led by PCJSS and pressure of public opinion from home and abroad. The maiden dialogue of PCJSS began with the Ershad-led government on 21 October 1985 and in continuation, altogether 26 rounds of dialogue were held respectively with Ershad, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina governments; and the dialogue was concluded in signing of CHT Accord based on modified five-point demand having the national and international communities as witnesses on 2 December 1997.
Despite the passage of 23 years since signing of the Accord, the government has left aside the fundamental and significant issues of the Accord unimplemented. Although the Awami League government, which signed the CHT Accord, has been in power for 12 consecutive years, it has not taken any effective steps and initiatives to implement the non-implementation issues of the Accord. The government has left two-third sections of the Accord untouched, yet in converse, it has been propagating at home and in abroad untrue, fabricated, baseless and confusing tales claiming that 48 sections out of 72 have already been completely implemented. The government has totally stopped the implementation process of CHT Accord and is following the path of its preceding dictatorial rulers, has adopted a wrong policy along the communal and undemocratic line to abolish the national existence of Jumma people – the attempt, as the PCJSS as well as Jumma people believe, can never evoke auspicious fruition to the greater interest of the country.
The Bengali version of this SUPPLEMENT has been published in the daily Samakal on 2 December 2020 and the English version has been published and circulated by the Information and Publicity Department of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti from Kalyanpur, Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: pcjss.org