News No. 25/2012, April 30, 2012
Over five hundred Jumma families have been living in fear of eviction in Kaptai Upazila of Rangamati district as the local administration imposed a ban on farming following a false case filed by the authorities of a tea estate, reports Prothom Alo.
Quoting potential victims, the Bengali daily in its today’s [Monday] issue said, ‘Jumma villages of Noapara, Nunchari Marma Para, Dolonnya and Boroichari Marma Para under Wagga union are over one hundred years old. Jumma people in these villages scrape a living by jum cultivation and farming ginger and turmeric. They do not have their lands registered, and have been living there on the basis of their traditional land rights. However, since after 1980-81, Waggachara Tea Estate Ltd has been claiming ownership to their lands.’
Villagers claim that the land to which the tea estate authority is claiming ownership does not belong to it.
According to them, the tea estate authority is making this claim by using such land holding numbers which fall in Kaptai Upazila Sadar and elsewhere.
On 17 April, Sahadev Shaha, an office stuff of Waggachara Tea Estate Ltd, filed a case against Sajai Marma, 56, Karbari (village chief) of Noapara; Meduk Marma, 55; Mongthoai Ching Marma, 27; and Suicha Pru Marma, 30 with Kaptai Police station on charges of trespassing on the tea estate’s land, causing fire and destruction, and intimidation.
When contacted, Md. Khorshedul Alam Kaderi, director of Waggachara Tea Estate Ltd., claimed, ‘the Jumma people did not have documents pertaining to their lands. The lands on which they live and work are registered in the name of the Tea Estate. The villagers have been farming the lands after obtaining permission from the tea estate authority. Recently, they have caused damage to 800 saplings, and that is the reason why we have filed the case.’
However, the accused in the case contended that the allegation that they had caused damage to the tea estate is not true since there were no tea seedlings planted on the land in question.
They said they were being harassed by framing false charges against them.
On Monday, they obtained anticipatory bail from the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Rangamati.
Village chief Sajai Marma said that in May last year, the tea estate authority had written to the local administration that 250 acres of land belonging to the local residents were disputed. Following this complaint, the local administration imposed section 144 indefinitely, prohibiting access to the land by them. Since then, they have not been able to cultivate their lands.
The villagers have submitted memorandum to the local authorities, state minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and the Regional Council authorities, seeking redress, but to no avail.
Md. Nurul Alam, Additional District Magistrate of Rangamati, confirmed that section 144 had been imposed and said, ‘A case is now pending on the issue, and section 144 will remain in force until the case is disposed of.’