Bangladesh: What Comes First: Tourism or livelihood?

    A Jhum land at Alutila in Khagrachhari where a special tourism zone is going to be established following the acquisition of around 700 acres of Jhum land. About 300 indigenous families would lose their Jhum land if the zone is set up there. Photo: Sanjay Kumar Barua

    Around 300 indigenous families fear that they would lose their Jhum land as a special tourism zone is going to be established in Alutila of Khagrachhari.

    The Khagrachhari district administration has recently proposed acquiring 699.98 acres of land in three mouzas under Sadar and Matiranga upazilas after Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) made a decision to set up the zone to promote tourism.

    The Daily Star obtained a copy of a letter that said the district administration had sent a detailed report on the proposed land to the BEZA.

    Of the proposed land, 604 acres of land are in Alutila mouza and Toikatang mouza under Matiranga upazila, while 95.98 acres of land are in Golabari mouza under Khagrachhari Sadar upazila.

    Most of it are Jhum land, on which indigenous families livelihood depend.

    Of the 300 families, most are from Tripura community, while the rest are from Chakma and Marma communities. They live in 10 villages of Alutila, Taikatang and Golabari mouzas, locals say.

    One of the families stands near their house which has posters on it against the move. Photo: Sanjay Kumar Barua
    One of the families stands near their house which has posters on it against the move. Photo: Sanjay Kumar Barua

    The villages which would be affected are Hridoy Member Para, Madhya Para, Jorna Para, Kap Para, Keda Para, Parjatan Para, Haja Para, Hasuk Para, Mondir Para and Golabari Para, said Dulal Chandro Tripura, an organiser of Alutila Land Protection Committee (ALPC).

    “Though the district administration told them that the amount of the proposed land is around 700 acres, it will be around 2,000 acres of Jhum and horticulture land in the three mouzas,” he claimed.

    “Uncertainty grips us as we do not know how we will survive if we lose our ancestral Jhum land,” said Kabilash Tripura, of Jorna Tripura Para under Taikatang mouza.

    “I am not sure what will happen to us and where we will go if we cannot cultivate our Jhum fields,” said Chironjit Damai, karbari (village chief) of Hridoy Member Para, where 25 families live.

    “Neither the headmen [mouza chiefs] nor the karbaris were consulted before the decision of land acquisition,” said Hironjoy Tripura, headman of Alutila mouza.

    Bir Bahadur Tripura, convener of ALPC, said, “We don’t want any development in our area which will snatch our ancestral land and our source of livelihood.”

    Rita Roaza, a member of ALPC, alleged that when they tried to organise any programme to protest the “illegal decision” of the government, they faced law enforcers’ obstruction.

    One of the families stands near their house which has posters on it against the move. Photo: Sanjay Kumar Barua
    One of the families stands near their house which has posters on it against the move. Photo: Sanjay Kumar Barua

    According to the Hill Districts Council Act, 1998, the deputy commissioner of the district requires permission of the corresponding Hill District Council chairman to acquire any land.

    Khagrachhari Hill District Council (KHDC) Chairman Kongjari Chowdhury said the district administration talked to him about the matter, but it did not take any approval from him about land acquisition.

    Mohammad Wahiduzzaman, deputy commissioner of Khagrachhari, said, “We have just started the [land] acquisition process, and we will discuss the matter soon with KHDC chairman and also the authorities concerned in the area.”

    “BEZA wants to develop two Parjatan areas Risang Fall and Alutila Cave and we just proposed the land so that no families will be evicted from the area. Rather, they will be benefited if the tourism zone is established there,” the DC said.

    Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, said, “It is customary of the DC to consult with the headmen and karbaris of the area before finalising any land deal. The decision of land acquisition in Alutila is definitely a violation of human rights.”

    U Sain Chowdhury, headman of Golabari mouza, said neither he nor his karbaris were consulted before taking the decision of land acquisition.

    On August 29, 2016, villagers submitted a memorandum to the prime minister through the DC, mentioning their problems. They urged the government not to allocate their ancestral Jhum land to the BEZA.

    But they have not got any response to this end from the government as yet.

    State Minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing said, “How will I help the families who are thinking of being evicted if they don’t come to me?”

    “The hilly people in the area will get benefit from the tourism zone, and no one will be evicted from their land.

    “If every stakeholder agrees to the plan, the tourism zone will be set up. If the plan is opposed by them, we will not implement the plan.”

    Talking to The Daily Star, Paban Chowdhury, executive chairman of BEZA, said they took the decision of setting up the special tourism zone in Alutila after discussion with the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs.

    As the hilly people and different indigenous organisations protested the decision, they wanted that the ministry would talk to every stakeholder in Chittagong Hill Tracts.

    If the hilly people did not want the special tourism zone, they would not go ahead with the plan.

    Alutila mouza headman Hironjoy said Khagrachhari forest department had planted “environmentally destructive” teak trees after acquiring 1,700 acres of land in the mouza “illegally”.

    Acquiring land in the name of development, the government had ignored the opinion and rights of the indigenous people, alleged Khagendro Tripura, a social activist of the district.

    Source: The DailyStar