A very few of you heard of the CHT Land Commission. As the only Bengali ever to make it to the National Parliament from Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), however, I deeply care about anything that relates to the place where I was born and raised. An amendment made in the CHT Land Commission Act is one such matter that I did not fail to notice.
I categorically oppose the amendment and the very structure of the commission for the following reasons:
- First off, the commission composes of 9 members among whom none represents the Bengali community living in the CHT. At least 7 of the 9-member commission hail from the tribal communities. And the remaining members include a former justice of the highest court of the land and a government appointment bureaucrat. As the commission will provide rulings on the basis of majority, the Bengali community in the CHT is on the verge of being victim of injustice and loosing the very land they have been living in for decades.
- At least three members of the commission do not have any sort of legal mandate to be there, whatsoever. They are the three ‘circle chiefs’ whose designations are legally and constitutionally null. In no legal framework in a modern democracy such ambiguous title holders belong to.
- At least four other members of the commission do not have any democratic mandate. While it’s required in law that the members – the chairman of the CHT regional council and the chairmen of the three separate hill districts – would be elected by tribal voters directly, none of them were elected ever. The government sought to take opportunity of an ambiguity in the law to SELECT the members without having followed any procedure. Even had they been elected as per the law, they would not have authority to represent the Bengali community, a large stakeholder in the complex process that composes of an half of total population in the hilly region.
- The amendment restricts the Chairman of the commission, an retired justice in the appellate division of the Supreme Court, to exercise a veto if the situation demands. While it’s beyond any doubt that all members except one or two are politically and ethnically biased, the amendment makes an honorable judge and the political appointees even, hence, does not value the justice’s wisdom, impartiality and neutrality.
- The commission’s decision is final and cannot be challenged in any court of law, according to the amended act. That made the commission sovereign, a fundamental flaw in the law. No commission should be, perhaps cannot be, sovereign, because it makes ensuring accountability and justice impossible. In our case, it blocks any legal avenue for those who may not be satisfied about the commission’s ruling. The provision in the law handers justice and risks further deterioration in an already complicated relations among communities in the CHT.
- In the past, several members, also leaders of ethno-political organizations, publicly endorsed an ambiguous idea of ‘traditional land rights’, which is in no legal means defined or described. We fear that the members will exercise power abuse in resolving the land dispute as per their own definition of the so-called ‘traditional land rights’, further complicating the scenario.
- No commission should have rights to block government owned lands. Such dispute should be resolved in the court.
- Since an important member of the commission previously claimed that there were no public lands, we are afraid of its possible consequence. If there were no public lands, the lands given to the Bengali community, and to other tribal communities on different occasions, by the government would have no legal recognition. I demand the Government of Bangladeah makes sure the every member accepts the legality of the fact that the government must own lands that have been unaccounted for a significant portion of time. Otherwise, all the efforts to resolve the long-standing dispute will go in vain.