With regards to highlighting the status of the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, the government boasts of the development in the region, as if development projects are the only objective of the Accord. To this end, the government has highlighted 18 “achievements of the peace accord” in the Supplementary of the CHT Affairs Ministry (The Daily Star, December 2, 2017), among which 12 achievements are related to development, while only the remaining six issues are actually linked to the Accord.
During the video conference with CHT dwellers on the occasion of two decades of the Accord held on December 1, the Honourable Prime Minister also extolled the development efforts in CHT. Similarly, the State Minister for CHT Affairs, Bir Bahadur MP, in his welcome address, also accommodated words about development throughout the entirety of his speech. He said, “During the years of 1970-71, there were only 48 kilometres of metalled road; by now, metalled roads measure about 1,400 to 1,500 kilometres.”
Now, the question is: what is the nature of the crisis in CHT? Is it merely an economic or developmental problem? Or is it a political one? The fact is that it is a political and a national problem. During the video conference, the Prime Minister herself described the crisis as a political one. But it is worth noting that the issues that command the political solution to the crisis are tactfully and silently avoided.
Let's recall that the CHT had been administered as a special administrative region since the British period. Although it fell under British rule in the 18th century, the British did not interfere in the internal administrative system of the Jumma peoples in any manner. During the Pakistan regime, the excluded and tribal area status of CHT was in force under the Constitution of Pakistan in 1956 and 1962 respectively.
Accordingly, the then Member of National Assembly Manabendra Narayan Larma had raised the four-point charter of demand of regional autonomy during the drafting of the Constitution in 1972. But the government paid no heed to the demands of the Jumma peoples. Hence, they were forced to wage a movement for their right to self-determination. Successive governments were unsuccessful in suppressing the movement. At one point, General Ziaur Rahman described the CHT crisis as an economic problem and established the CHT Development Board in 1976 to resolve it. But Zia's policy spelled abject failure.
Consequently, the government finally entertained the idea of negotiation. Thus began a formal dialogue with the Ershad-led government on October 21, 1985 in which the government recognised the CHT issue as a political and national one. In continuation of the negotiation, the CHT Accord was signed by the Hasina-led government on December 2, 1997, with the aim of solving the problem through political and peaceful means. But due to the non-implementation of the Accord, the much-awaited political solution has not been achieved to this day.
In lieu of the above, it is easy to ascertain to what extent the multi-million dollar development projects would play a role in addressing the CHT crisis if the tribal-inhabited features of the CHT cannot be preserved. The CHT Regional Council Act and three Hill District Council Act are not enforced effectively; outsiders continue to settle on the CHT, evicting the lands of the local tribal people; general administration, law and order, police, land and land management, and development are not devolved to the three Hill District Councils; the Councils are not formed through elections by voters who are permanent residents of the CHT; the de facto military rule in the name of “Operation Uttaran”, which includes the withdrawal of over 400 temporary camps, continues; returnee refugees and internally displaced families are not properly rehabilitated; land disputes remain unsettled while illegal land grabbing and eviction of Jumma peoples from their ancestral lands continue to exist, violating the CHT Accord.
It is undeniable that the Jumma peoples are, to some extent, enjoying benefits from the “1,500-kilometre roads”. But at the same time, it is a fact that they are experiencing far more adverse effects. The Jumma peoples have been subjected to gradual eviction in places where metalled roads have been laid down in the hills. They are being pushed to the remotest foothills. On the contrary, Bengali settlers, wherever they reach, forcibly occupy lands and destroy forest resources, and thereby become embroiled in communal conflict with the local residents. The development of transport infrastructure has turned the CHT crisis more complex than ever.
In the CHT Accord, the subjects of law and order, local police, land and land management and transport infrastructure have been enshrined in the functions of the Hill District Councils. But the government has not yet transferred these to the Councils. The legal provision that has been provided in the Accord, by merit of which the Regional Council is supposed to co-ordinate and supervise the general administration, law and order, and development in the three hill districts, has not yet been made effective. Consequently, the three Hill District Councils, DCs and SPs, Development Board, local government bodies and other district and upazila level authorities have been ignoring the authority of Regional Council. But no development can be sustainable and pro-people without proper institutionalisation of the special administrative system of CHT.
As a result, various policy decisions related to these functions are being adopted and implemented without discussion and consultation with CHT institutions. For example, the formation of Guimara upazila, Sajek police station and Borthali union—all of which were done after signing the Accord—were not discussed with the Regional Council and the concerned Hill District Council. Furthermore, development projects, such as the construction of the border road and the land port at Thegamukh, establishment of luxurious tourist centres by the army and Tourism Corporation, declaration of reserve forests, and leasing land to non-residents are also being carried out without consulting the CHT institutions.
Though the Regional Council and Hill District Councils were constituted to determine the development of the CHT, in practice, these councils have been left dysfunctional in all respects. As a result of this, the top-down development approach has remained ineffective in CHT, as before. Due to the uncertainty in the implementation of the core issues of the Accord, most development projects of the present government have also had a fatal impact on the culture, lifestyle, lives and livelihood, food security, environment and bio-diversity of the Jumma peoples.
Jumma peoples cannot be disregarded in the development process of their own region. As the CHT is a region that has been lagging behind, additional development funds to be deployed on a priority basis are mentioned in the Accord. But without the implementation of its core issues, no development project can be sustainable or capable of bringing about the holistic well-being of the people of the CHT. All development projects must be guided in a manner supportive to the implementation of the CHT Accord. Only by establishing the special administrative system and conducting projects with respect to the core issues can development be sustainable, pro-people and environmentally friendly.
Mangal Kumar Chakma is the Information and Publicity Secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti.