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Indigenous families and government dispute over land ownership in Khagrachhari

21 Chakma families living in classrooms claim that BGB built battalion headquarters on their land

Twenty-one indigenous families in Khagrachhari, who claim they were forcefully evicted from their own land for the establishment of a BGB battalion headquarters, have been living in crammed conditions at a local school since June 10 following clashes between law enforcers and the families over land acquisition disputes. Although the indigenous families claimed that they had been living on the local land for generations, authorities concerned alleged that most of the families were making false claims of being permanent residents, while the UPDF and local political forces were also trying to take advantage of the existing tension surrounding the issue. Following the recent clash, 21 families from the local Chakma community have been living in only two classrooms of the Babuchhara High School in Dighinala upazila, claiming that the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) had set up its 51 battalion headquarters on their land last month. “We had to come here [the school] carrying only the clothes we had on. We could not bring our clothes, household materials, or even our domestic animals and harvested crops,” said Sudarshana Chakma, who has been living in this school since the clashes. “We cannot even harvest our own paddy field. When we try to go to our house to bring back our stuff, the BGB members halt us,” said Shantash Kumar Chakma, 76, who is the karbari or leader of Shashi Mahan para. Visiting the school, the Dhaka Tribune found that around 84 people – who were from Shashi Mahan Karbari Para and Jatna Mahan Karbari Para – were living in crammed conditions without proper supply of food, clothes or medical facilities. The government and BGB officials claimed that most of the disputed 45 acres of land in the two paras (neighbourhoods) was khash land that had not seen any habitations since 1986. According to the district administration, the government started acquiring the 45 acres of land from 2005 to build the Babuchhara BGB battalion headquarters in 51 Dighinala Mouza, where 13.90 acre land was private land and 31.10 acre was khash land of the government. “Some 10 indigenous people filed a writ petition with the High Court in 2005, for which the government started their action for acquiring only 29.81 acre that included 2.20 acre of private land and 27.61 acre of khash land. But the government excluded a primary school on a 2-acre area inside the acquired land,” said district Deputy Commissioner Masud Karim. “The government is yet to acquire 10.27 acre land as the High Court issued a stay order upon this land,” he added. On May 15, the district administration handed over 29.81 of acquired land to the BGB, Masud added. The BGB has since then set up its 51 battalion headquarters on the land; while barbed wire fences have been erected to mark the property, with around nine outposts and Baghaichhari Government Primary School-2 falling inside the fenced territory. Interestingly, around 5 acre of land remain missing from the equation for land acquisition. Although the initial land acquisition target had been set at 45 acre; the BGB had received 29.81 acre with decision on 10.27 acre still pending at the court. Asked about the 5 acres of unaccounted land, the DC and BGB officials evaded any reply; with DC Masud saying: “Now we are only concentrating on the 29.81 acre land.” On the other hand, the indigenous people claimed that they had been living on the disputed land for many years. “We had been living in Babuchhara for generations. During the insurgencies in 1986, hundreds of families including us became refugees in India’s Tripura. After the peace accord in 1997, we returned to our land upon an agreement that said we will be given our land back,” said Mrinal Kanti Chakma, 42, who was now living in the school with his family. “However, we are yet to get back our land. For this, we had been living and cultivating on this land in a tensed situation. Now, for the second time, we are being displaced from our land,” he added. Bishwa Kallyan Chakma, the chairman of Kabakhali union parishad, said: “During 1977-79, I lived at my relative’s house which was situated on the 45 acre land. At the time, there were more than 30 families living there. There was also a Kyong [a religious house]. “During 1986-89, many families were forced to leave their land and go to India. After they left, an army camp was established in the area in 1986. When the displaced people returned, they found an army camp on their land. As they did not get back their land since then, they could not build any permanent house. “We are neither against the government nor the BGB, but we request them to establish the headquarters on any land where no one would be displaced” Bishwa added. Asked if the indigenous families had any documentation showing proof of their ownership of the land, Santo Shita Chakma, the secretary for refugee welfare organisation Jumma Saranarthi Kallyan Samitte, said: “How can we have any papers? When a 20-point deed was made in 1997, we were told that we will be given our land back with all necessary papers. But we are yet to get our land back or any paper.” However, both the Khagrachhari DC and BGB officials denied claims of the 21 families’ ownership of the land. “Since 1986, there was a sub-zone army camp in Babuchhara area. There was no family living on the 45 acre land. As the government now realised that the border area was unsafe, a BGB battalion headquarters was established withdrawing the previous army camp,” said Babuchara 51 BGB official Maj Kamal Uddin. “The area still belongs to the army camp,” he added. Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Masud Karim claimed that the area had no habitation a year ago, while some people recently built some new houses in order to be compensated for land acquisition. On April 10, the government proposed compensation to ten indigenous people as part of the land acquisition drive; with two of the families to be compensated for acquisition of their private land and the rest compensated for their trees on the land. The compensation amount was proposed on the basis of their land area and trees, with the lowest amount proposed at Tk2,636 and the highest at Tk69,000. Lolito Mohan Chakma, who was proposed to get Tk69,000 as compensation for his 1.5 acre land, said: “I do not need any compensation money. I want my land back.” Meanwhile, local officials suggested that an organisation of the hill tracts area were encouragihereng the families to not accept the compensation. The DC said: “An anti-peace accord group was always against the establishment of a BGB battalion here. Here, only two families are the real victims while others want to prevent the establishment of the BGB battalion headquarters in this area.” On June 17, the Dighinala upazila nirbahi officer submitted a report to the DC office that said: “The present law and order situation is normal. But it is thought that United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF) along with some local political parties are trying to make the situation worse using the land acquisition issue.” However, UPDF central member Debadanta Tripura denied the allegations and claimed that the government and the BGB were blaming the UPDF in order to discard their own responsibility and secure their own interest. Earlier, State Minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Bir Bahadur U Shwe Sing told the Dhaka Tribune that only two families were affected by the land acquisition of 29.81 acres of government khash land in the area. The other families were not victims, he said, claiming that a group was trying to divert the situation to their benefit.   This story was published at Dhaka Tribune on July 1, 2014 To find the story link, click here Read my NEWS FEED

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This entry was posted on July 1, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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