Monday, June 16, 2014

Forcible land acquisition in Babuchara: Is BGB’s Battalion 51 above the law?

Feature: Issue 02/2014: Monday, 16 June 2014

THE forcible acquisition of land for a battalion headquarters of the Border Guards Bangladesh has been at the centre of recent protests in Dighinala. In one such protest on 10 June, at least 18 Jumma villagers, mostly woman, were wounded when the BGB, police and Bengali settlers attacked them with tear gas, rubber bullets, rifle butts and sticks. Some of the critically injured women are still lying in hospital beds in Khagrachari, while police women guarding them, so that they can be arrested as soon as they are released from hospital. These women are part of the 250 Jummas against whom the BGB filed a criminal case following the 10 June crackdown. Acting on the case, the police have arrested two persons, including a 60-year-old man, from Khagrachari Sadar Hospital gate when they went there to see their wounded wives.

The BGB has long been trying to acquire lands in Jatna Mohan Karbari Para under Dighinala Union to house its battalion 51. In 2005, the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari served a notice of intent to acquire 45 acres of land in two villages – Jatna Mohan Karbari Para and Shashi Mohan Karbari Para. [Memo no. 63/L. A. branch, dated 31/03/2005]. These lands are owned by eleven Jummas, who filed a writ petition in the High Court against the said notice. The court issued a rule on the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari and BGB’s Khagrachari Sector commander to show cause why the notice of intent to acquire lands for BGB battalion 51 should not be declared illegal, and ordered the suspension of the operation of the notice until the dispute is settled. [case No. 3455-3463/2005]

Desperate to occupy
While the habeas corpus petition is still pending, the Khagrachari Deputy Commissioner, on 10 April, served another land acquisition notice on 11 Jumma villagers. [Memo No. 05.42.4600.018.014.02.13 (part-2)]. Included in these eleven villagers are three persons on whom similar acquisition notice was served earlier in 2005. This means that the new notice left out eight of the eleven recipients of the first notice and included another eight new names in their place. However, all of them refused to receive compensation for the acquisition of their lands since the case was still pending in the high court.

The second notice, like the first one, was issued under the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Acquisition Law of 1958, a Pakistan-era law, which authorizes the Deputy Commissioners to acquire such land “which is not resumable under the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation, 1900 (Regu. I of 1900)”. The process of acquiring land under this law is so brief that what the Deputy Commissioner has to do is just state that “your land has been acquired and so come and receive compensation for it”. And the land so acquired is vested with the Deputy Commissioner from the day the notice was served.

While a writ petition is still pending and the Deputy Commissioner was yet to hand over the ‘acquired’ land, members of the BGB Battalion 51 occupied the said land on the night of 14 May. It was only the following day that a representative of the Deputy Commissioner formally handed the ‘acquired’ land over to the BGB.

The BGB has now set up makeshift tents and erected barbed-wire fence around the land they are occupying. It is even denying actual land owners access to their houses which fell inside the boundary it arbitrarily created. This has forced a total of 21 families to take shelter in Babuchara Primary school. The BGB also shut down a primary school near its ‘acquired land’, badly affecting the educational prospects of about 250 children. In the ‘acquired 29.81 acres’ is also included land belonging to Jetoban Buddhist temple, which existed until 1989 when the people of the area fled to India to become refugees. After their return, the villagers attempted many times to build the temple anew. But each time the army from nearby Babuchara camp prevented them.

Contempt of court
While it is debatable whether the BGB needs a battalion headquarters in Dighinala in addition to a military cantonment and dozens other military and para-military camps, the deputy Commissioner’s second acquisition notice is a clear case of Contempt of Court. But Md. Mashud Karim, the Deputy Commissioner, in reply to a legal notice served on him by the landowners’ appointed attorney, denied this, saying that he had acquired 29.81 acres after deducting the lands in respect of which a writ petition was filed in 2005. But a review of the matter reveals that at least three persons’ lands, which are the subject of the writ petition of 2005, have been included in the ‘acquired 29.81 acres’. These three aggrieved landowners have already filed a contempt of court case in the High Court, while the others are preparing to file another writ petition.

The Deputy Commissioner has also violated the District Council Act. Section 64(1B) clearly states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other laws for the time being in force, ... (B) No land, hill and forest under the control and jurisdiction of the Council shall be acquired and transferred by the Government without consultation with, and consent of, the Council.” [Translation: chtnews.com] On 12 June, at a meeting on law and order the Deputy Commissioner acknowledged that consent of the District Council had not been taken while acquiring land for the Battalion 51 in Dighinala, despite it being mandatory. Moreover, the Headman of the concerned Mouza and the elected public representatives of the area were not consulted before acquiring the land.

Protests
There have been a series of protests against the forcible occupation of the land by BGB. On 27 May, villagers of the affected area submitted a memorandum addressed to the Prime Ministher. This was followed by another appeal to the PM and a sit-in in front of the UNO office by all the elected Jumma representatives and traditional leaders of Dighinala on 8 June. On 19 May, thousands of people formed a human chain in front of the UNO office. On 10 June, local people and the landowners demonstrated in front of the BGB men, the occupiers, who used brute force against them so mercilessly.

What the locals say
Gopa Chakma, a resident of Jatna Mohan Karbari Para, is one of the 18 Jummas wounded in the BGB attack. She is now undergoing medical treatment at Khagrachari Sadar Hospital. One day before the attack, in an interview with chtnews.com, she said:

“The presence of the BGB personnel has created many problems for us. When the women and girls bathe at the pond, the BGB men stare at them. They use our courtyard to go to, and come from, their camp. We cannot move at night because they have set up a check post on the road. They have closed the road and because of this our children cannot go to school and private tuition. There was no problem before if we stayed out till 10 or 11pm. Now, we the women are feeling most insecure.”

Babul Chakma of the village of Shashi Mohan Karbari Para said they were the first to settle in the village. Claiming that the BGB occupied their land by force, he said:

“The BGB men have grabbed our pond as well. We were evicted once in 1989 when we became refugee in India. As the BGB have come, we are going to be evicted for the second time. We have been living here since the time of the British rule. It was we who fought with wild beasts to make the land suitable for habitation.”

Shashi Mohan Karbari’s wife Ranjan Mala Chakma was overcome with emotion while talking about the occupation of their land by BGB. She said:

“How can we hand over our land to BGB, the land where we have been living for generations? The land which we made suitable for habitation with hard labour, the land where my husband’s cremation ground is located, the land with which many of our memories of joy and sorrow are intermingled – the loss of this land is like death.”

Chandra Ranjan Chakma, chairman of Dighinala Union No. 4, said that the BGB have occupied the land by force and that is why nobody can accept them. He demanded that the BGB men be withdrawn from Jatna Mohan Karbari Para and Shashi Mohan Karbari Para, and added:

“We, all the distinguished people of Dighinala, have come together to save the land of the poor families of these two villages. Many poor families will be dislodged from their lands if BGB’s battalion headquarters is established unjustly.”

Prantor Chakma, Headman of Dighinala Mouza No. 51, under whose jurisdiction the ‘acquired land’ is located, is one of the 250 people against whom BGB filed a criminal case. He told chtnews.com:

“I am the Headman of this area, but I have not been consulted about the acquisition of the land in question. My opinion is that it is absolutely unjust to set up BGB’s battalion headquarters by driving poor and innocent Jumma families out of their ancestral lands.”

Conclusion:
It is clear that the acquisition of 29.81 acres of land for BGB has been made in violation of the existing laws of the CHT as well as the High Court order. Hence the occupation of the land by BGB’s Battalion 51 is completely illegal. The way they occupied the land, the way they drove the poor villagers out of their homes, the way they attacked them and the way they shut down a school – all this raises the question: are the BGB’s Battalion 51 above the law?


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