The Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) on Tuesday, February 23 requested all the Chief Ministers of the Northeast to urge External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to raise the issue of the forcible eviction of about 7,000 Garos and 10,000 Mro people and implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) Accord with the Government of Bangladesh during his forthcoming visit to Dhaka on March 4, 2021.
“Unless these issues are raised, there are strong possibilities that the Garos being displaced from Madhupur forest, Tangail district may be gradually forced to flee to Meghalaya while indigenous Mro people of Bandarban district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts similarly may flee to Mizoram State and/or assimilate into mainstream Islamic society in Bangladesh. Further, non-implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 has direct implications for peace, security, and stability in India’s Northeastern region,” stated Suhas Chakma, Director of the RRAG.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Forest and Environment Ministry in Bangladesh asked the authorities to issue eviction notices to the alleged illegal occupants of the Madhupur forest i.e. indigenous Garo people living in the area for centuries by January 30, 2021. Protests by the Garos have been organised but to no avail. In 2016, the Forest and Environment Ministry of Bangladesh issued a notice declaring 1,945 acres of land in Madhupur under Tangail district to be rezoned as a forest reserve. About 7,000 Garos in 13 villages, mostly Catholic villagers, will be displaced.
In September 2020, the Bangladesh Army and Sikder Group conglomerate company, R&R Holdings Limited, started construction in the five-star tourism project including a Marriott hotel, extensive network of buildings, roads, drainage, and sewage system at Chimbuk-Thanchi area of the Bandarban district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs). This project will displace about 10,000 indigenous Mro people. On February 9, 2021, seven UN human rights experts urged Bangladesh to suspend the construction of large-scale tourist infrastructures.
Further, the key provisions of the CHTs Accord signed on December 2 1997 between the Government of Bangladesh and the Jana Samhati Samiti have not been implemented as of date. These provisions not-implemented by the Government of Bangladesh include failure to take back all the temporary camps of the Bangladesh Army, Ansar and Village Defence Party to permanent installations except the Border Guards Bangladesh and permanent cantonments (three at the three District Headquarters and Alikadam, Ruma and Dighinala)” as per Article 17 of the CHTs Accord; not resolving a single land dispute because of the refusal to enact the Rules of the CHTs Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, 2001 as on date; not transferring significant functions/subjects to the CHTs Regional Council and three Hill District Councils of Khagrachari, Bandarban and Rangamati such as supervision, preservation and development of law and order, land and land management, police (local), forest and environment, development of communication system, etc; and the failure to rehabilitate returnee tribal refugees who had returned from India after signing of the Accord and internally displaced tribal people of the CHTs.
The instability in the CHTs, which shares the only international border with trouble-torn Rakhine State of Myanmar marked by armed conflict with the Arakan Army and the Rohingya crisis, poses serious threats to peace, security, and stability in the entire Northeast and the rest of India.
“The time has come for the Northeastern States to take up the issue of indigenous peoples of Bangladesh with the Government of Bangladesh both to ensure the survival of indigenous peoples with rights and dignity in Bangladesh as well as to secure peace and stability in the entire Northeast. It is in the interest of each and every State of the Northeast from Arunachal Pradesh to Tripura and Mizoram to develop a common position on these issues and pursue with the Government of India to address with Bangladesh as a matter of priority,” stated Chakma.