Recently, an initiative to set up “Alutila Special Tourism Zone, Khagrachari” on 699.98 acres of hilly land has once again stirred up deep anxiety, concern and grievances among the indigenous Jumma peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) including those of Khagrachari district.
It was learnt that Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA) under the Prime Minister’s Office took decision to set up a special tourist zone in Khagrachari district. Informing this decision, BEZA sent a letter to Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari hill district on 15th of June 2016 asking to provide necessary information of proposed land including holding number, location and mouza map. Accordingly, in a letter (Memo. No. 05.42.4670.013.00.002.15-303), the Upazila Nirbahi Office (UNO) of Matiranga upazila under Khagrachari district stated that the proposed land area for the “Tourism Zone” is 699.98 acres. Of the proposed land, 604 acres of land belong to No. 204 Alutila Mouza and No. 205 Toikathang Mouza under Matiranga upazila, 95.98 acres to No. 262 Golabari Mouza under Khagrachari Sadar Upazila. Most of these lands have been marked, allegedly and incorrectly, as “Khas” in the documents of the concerned Upazila Offices and in the enquiry reports submitted by the Offices of the Assistant Commissioners (Land).
In fact, the very concept of “Khas” land in reference to the CHT is incorrect or fallacious in respect of the region’s laws, customs and conventions. Lands referred to as “Khas” have been designated, in these reports and documents, as lands owned by the Deputy Commissioner on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh. But in reality, these lands commonly known as “Mouza and Jum lands,” have come to be managed by the indigenous Jumma peoples themselves for centuries. In fact, the CHT Accord of 1997 vests the management of lands in the CHT with the jurisdiction of both the Hill District Councils and CHT Regional Council.
It is to be noted that about 518 families in 21 villages spread over 699.98 acres of lands in the Alutila area have been living in the three Mouzas as mentioned above for generations. Most of these families are from the Tripura community. Along with their Jum lands, they have developed horticultural gardens, educational institutions, religious complexes (Viharas, temples and churches), cremation grounds etc. in the area. It is also alleged that concerned mouza headmen were not consulted properly while land survey was conducted for preparation of the report for establishment of proposed special tourism zone at Alutila.
As many as 2500 Jumma people belonging to 518 families will be wronged, in case the “Alutila Special Tourism, Khagrachari” is materialized. It is to be recalled that the Khagrachari Forest Department planted environmentally destructive “Teak” on 1000 acres of land in the Alutila area. CHT Development Board acquired 300 acres of land in the area in the name of SALT project in addition to many others who ill-accessed lands there. In acquiring lands in the name of development, the Government ignored, as in the past, the opinion and rights of the local indigenous Jumma peoples.
Moreover, tourism being a subject of the Hill District Council and CHT Regional Council, it is an asymmetricalas well as ill thought out decision which sidesteps these institutions at a time when the implementation of the CHT Accord is questioned seriously in resolving the issues in the CHT, when the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission is yet to start functioning in spite of the fact that the Land Dispute Resolution Commission (amendment) Ordinance 2016 was promulgated.
Since declaration of the government’s plan, indigenous peoples including dwellers of Alutila hills, students and youths organizations, civil society organisations, local political parties have been organising demonstration in protesting against and demanding to postpone said government initiative. On 21 July 2016, 75 residents of Alutila hills inclduing by Rasamoy Tripura, Shantimoy Tripura and Dulal Chandra Tripura submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari district. Again, on 31 August 2016, another memorandum was submitted by 84 persons of public representatives, traditional leaders, representatives of Civil Society Organisations and affected people led by Chanchu Moni Chakma, Chairman of Khagrachari Upazila Parishad; Gyana Ranjan Tripura, Chairman of Golabari Union; Ananta Bihari Khisa and Sudhin Kumar Chakma of representatives of CSOs to the Prime Minister of the Government of Bangladesh copying to the Tourism Ministry, CHT Affairs Ministry, CHT Regional Council, Khagrachari Hill District Council, Task Force on Rehabilitation of Returnee Refugees and IDPs, local Member of Parliament, Khagrachari Deputy Commissioner et al.
In the memorandums, it was stated that under these circumstances, it is indeed impractical and undesirable to initiate a project that leads up to establishing a ‘Tourism Zone’ in the area. This would exacerbate the existing status quo further and would frustrate the implementation of the CHT Accord. In the memorandum, the Jumma people put up demands to scrap the ‘Special Tourism Zone’ project at Alutila in Khagrachari immediately, to provide financial support to the land owners of Alutila hills for horticulture development and to take measures leading up to resolving the land issues through Land Commission in accordance with the CHT Accord.