The expropriation of common lands in CHT

Friday: 2 August 2013


On 28 January, at a meeting in Rangamati presided over by the Deputy Commissioner, it was decided to expedite the process of acquiring 84,542.42 acres of land under 22 Mouzas in Rangamati district for reserved forests. In fact, most of these lands have already been declared ‘reserved forest’ under section 20 of the Forest Act. If the process, which began in 1982, of acquiring the remaining lands is completed, the entire lands of six Mouzas and most part of the other Mouzas will be off-limits to the public, rendering hundreds of Jumia families landless.
The lands already acquired or to be acquired fall under the jurisdiction of three departments of the government, namely, Department Relating to Unclassed State Forests, Pulpwood Division and Jum Control Division.

Department Relating to Unclassed State Forest
Of the 84,542.42 acres of land that the government seeks to acquire in Rangamati district, 16,000 acres fall within the Department Relating to Unclassed State Forest. For the acquisition of these lands, the government, on 4 January 1982, issued a notification in the official Gazette under section 4 of the Forest Act 1927, which represents the first stage in a long process of declaring an area a reserve forest. It is not known how much of these lands have been acquired already, but the meeting in Ramgamati decided to declare these lands as ‘reserved forests’ in phases rather than all at once, apparently to avoid the cumbersome process.
Mouza-wise distribution of lands to be acquired under Department Relating to Unclassed State Forests:
Name of the Mouza
Amount of land to be acquired
(in acre)
Shukarchari Mouza No. 110
Kudukchari Mouza No. 111
Hazachari Mouza No. 70
Ghilachari Mouza No. 69
Chowdhury Chara Mouza No. 68
Toichakma Mouza No. 75
Kengelchari Mouza No. 79
Of these total lands, 1,391 acres are owned by individual proprietors and yet to be acquired.
Pulpwood Division
According to a memo of the meeting mentioned above, a total of 23,748.92 acres of land under the jurisdiction of Pulpwood Division Rangamati have been declared a reserve forest under section 20 of the Forest Act. The government made this declaration in two separate letters issued by Ministry of Forest and Environment on 18 June 1996 and 20 September 1998.
However, within these lands are included 59.75 acres of personal property which have not been decided upon yet. While the Revenue Department has been ordered to add the remaining 23,689.17 acres of land to the rent-roll in the name of the Pulpwood Division, the meeting decided to go for the next step with regard to the lands (59.75 acres) owned by private individuals.
Jum Control Division
On 4 January 1992, the government issued a notification under section 4 of the Forest Act for the acquisition of a total of 36,182.54 acres of land in 15 Mouzas in Rangamati district. Of these lands, which fall within the jurisdiction of the Jum Control Division, Rangamati, at least 1,642.99 acres belong to private individuals while another 6,329 acres were declared ‘reserved forests’ on 1 March 1999. As for the remaining 28,210.55 acres, it was decided in the meeting that steps should be taken to declare those lands free of encumbrances as reserve forests.
Mouza-wise distribution of lands acquired or to be acquired under Jum Control Division:
Mouza name
Amount of land
(in acre)
Manikchari Mouza No. 108
Sapchari Mouza No. 109
Hemonto Mouza No. 123
Bananta Mouza No. 28
Phoolgazi Mouza No. 125
Ghagra Mouza No. 99
Khaskhali Mouza No. 95
Betbunia Mouza No. 95A
Atarokchara Mouza No. 27
Longudu Mouza No. 3
Ultachari Mouza No. 57
Kudukchari Mouza No. 122
Barudgola Mouza No. 130
Bollalchara Mouza No. 131
Kaindya Mouza No. 129
According to a government document – a 27 July 2008 letter from the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests to the secretary of the Ministry of Forest and Environment, a total of 9,04,456.44 acres of land have been declared reserved forests under section 20 of the Forest Act, while 70,575 acres are in the process of being declared reserved under section 6 of the said Act. District-wise breakdown of the figures: declared reserved forest under section 20: Rangamati: 5,73,270.21 acres, Khagrachari: 88,492.83 acres, Bandarban: 2,42,693.40 acres; under process of being declared reserved forest under section 6: Rangamati: 41,401.88 acres, Khagrachari: 7,342.67, Bandarban: 21,830.80 acres.
Historical perspective
The expropriation of common lands in the CHT has its origin in British colonial rule which introduced the concept of private ownership of land and ‘claimed ownership of all lands in the hills in 1868’ (The Politics of Nationalism by Amena Mohsin, 1997). In 1865 the Indian Forest Reserve Act was passed and by February 1871, nearly the entire CHT district viz., 5670 out of 6882 sq. miles, was declared to be Government Reserve Forest. As a consequence of this policy the areas available for jhum were reduced to one third of the formerly available areas for jhum.’ (Ibid). By the end of the twentieth century, the alienation of the Hill people from their sources of production i.e. land and forest was total (Ibid).
After the independence of Bangladesh, more reserve forests have been created, further depriving the Jumma people of their common lands. The total land area of the CHT comprises 13,295 square kilometers or 32,85,266 acres. Of these, 19,22,000 acres are covered by forest. If we deduct the reserve forests amounting to 9,04,456.44 acres and the protected forests comprising 19,220 acres (1% of the total forest land), we have merely 9,98,323.56 acres or about 52% of the total forest area available for jum cultivation. However, the government considers these lands as ‘Unclassed State Forest’ and wants to mutate them gradually into reserve forests. The present 52 per cent USF has shrunk from 75% in 1976 (Cited in “Land Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh” By Rajkumari Chandra Kalindi Roy.)
“Other forest”
The USF or the remaining commons will shrink further once the Forest (Amendment) Act, 2012 is passed in parliament. The proposed amendment provides for another category of forest called “Other forest” in addition to the existing three types of forests, namely, reserved forest, protected forest and unclassed state forest.
Section 34A of the proposed Act says: ‘The Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, declare the provisions of this Chapter, as far as it is applicable to any waste-land or char land or forest plantation, which is not included in a reserved forest or protected forest but which is the property of Government, or over which the Government has proprietary right, or to the whole or any part of the forest-produce to which the Government is entitled.’
Section 34B lists the acts that are prohibited in ‘other forests’ and these include, among others, felling, girdling, lopping or burning any tree or stripping off the bark or leaves from, or causing damage to the same.
The proposed amendment bill was placed before the parliament on 29 February 2013. The Speaker forwarded it to the parliamentary standing committee on Forest and Environment for necessary vetting, which in turn formed a 4-memebr sub-committee headed by Advocate Soharab Ali Sana to work on the bill. In the face of strong protests from environmental groups and indigenous peoples’ organizations, the bill is now in a limbo.
Reclaiming the CHT commons
Expropriation of the common lands of the indigenous peoples / ethnic minorities is pervasive all over the world. In an article titled ‘The tragic African commons: A century of expropriation, suppression and subversion’, Okoth-Ogendo writes, ‘Denial of the proprietary character of the commons was fundamental to the operation of colonial occupation and subsequent exploitation of the African commons.’ The same is also true for the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where appropriation of the communal lands has brought misery, hardship and poverty to the Jumma people.
Land is vital for the survival of any community. It is the life blood of a nation. Bereft of the right to the commons, the indigenous peoples are like a fish out of water. Therefore, for the survival of the Jumma people, restoration of the commons is a must. The Government should immediately return the common lands to the Jumma people, rather than acquire more. [End]
Issue 02/2013:


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