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The nuisance of the CHT Land Commission

6 May 2012

Commentary: Issue 02:

THE general feeling in Chittagong Hill Tracts is, quite frankly, that Khademul Islam, chairman of the CHT Land Commission, has become a pestering nuisance. The sooner he quits (or is shown the exit door), the better. His autocratic manner of running the Commission has not only irked many but also complicated the land issue.
In a repeat performance, on May 2 and 3, Mr. Khademul made a failed attempt to begin the hearing of complaints submitted to the Commission. It was a unilateral exercise, like the previous ones; and of the other four members of the Commission, all but one boycotted it, resulting in a lack of a quorum. There was also protest from the Jumma political parties. The United Peoples’ Democratic Front (UPDF) in a strongly worded statement on Wednesday termed the hearing as a ‘farce’ and said the outcome of such a controversial hearing would never be acceptable to the Jumma people. In the face protest and boycott, Mr. Khademul had to adjourn the proceeding till May 23, but he seemed adamant to prove the adage: ‘Failure is the pillar of success.’ He sounded arrogant when he told reporters that he would adopt ‘special measures’ to dispose of the cases filed with the Commission. However, he stopped short of specifying what those measures might be. [see New Age, 4 April]

He averred that ‘the special measures’ are already laid down in the Land Commission Act. But a reading of the Act gives lie to this claim. There is no such provision in the Act. It is a figment of his imagination at best, and an outright lie at worst. Khademul Islam should be reminded that the task he has been entrusted with is not a simple one and that indulgence in flippant remarks will only embroil him in more controversy. In any case, he has already lost confidence of the people, and if he has any sense of self-respect he should resign and make way for someone who is fit for the job.

Mr. Khademul Islam’s three-year term will expire in July this year unless the government grants him an extension. He was made chairman of the Commission on19 July 2009 by the incumbent Awami League government to settle land disputes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. [see Amar Desh, 23 April 2010] But his autocratic manner of running the Commission soon alienated other members of the Commission, and he has found himself increasingly isolated. His declared intention to launch cadastral survey before settling land disputes; his unilateral decision to call for submission of complaints by affected parties; his participation in public meetings, seminars and road marches a lagovernment ministers – all this generated substantial criticism and controversy, and cast doubt as to his ability to be an impartial arbiter.
Therefore, it is not without reason that an overwhelming majority of the CHT people consider him to be biased, prejudiced and incapable of exercising his responsibilities under the law. They view him as a puppet, with a vested interest group in the government and the army pulling the strings from behind the curtain.  “He (Khademul Islam) has no intention to resolve land disputes; he is here to implement a hidden agenda of the government.” a civil society member commented.
In this context, it might be pertinent to say a few words about the CHT Land Commission Act 2001, under which Mr. Khademul was appointed as chairman. A number of provisions of the Act are contrary to the CHT Accord, and the power given to him is near-absolute. According to newspaper reports, the government has finally agreed to amend the controversial provisions of the Act, but it is yet to put through the parliament.
Land is crucial for the survival of the Jumma people in the CHT. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of lands, which are being occupied by illegal settlers. Unless the government recognizes the traditional land laws prevalent in the CHT and unless the Land Commission Act is amended in that light, there is no hope for getting those lands back. And if land disputes are not settled to the full satisfaction of the Jumma people, there will be no peace in the CHT. [End]
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