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NGO accused of grabbing land in Bandarban

News No. 85/2008, May 18, 2008

Development Organisation of the Rural Poor, a local NGO, is accused of grabbing lands belonging to Tripura nationality in Lama Upazila of Bandarban.

An NGO by the name of DORP has cleared fruit orchards and other trees of the Tripura people in Lama Upazila of Bandarban and then set fire to it, reports Prothom Alo, a vernacular daily published from Dhaka.

Now a signboard reading ‘Saistyogram Dorp’ (Sanatorium Village Dorp) has been put up over the said land, it added.

Taking responsibility for the destruction of the orchards, Dorp said it had taken those lands on lease. However, chairman of Bandarban District Council, Professor Thanzama Lusai and district administration officials refuted the claim saying there was no scope for land leases after the CHT peace accord.

The indigenous Tripura people have been living, for hundreds of years, in Tongo Zhiripara village under Soroi Union that lies about 20km north of Bandarban Sadar Upazila on Sualok-Lama road. Although a few families have land documents, others have been practicing Jum cultivation on the hills for generations under traditional land management system. The villagers said 10 – 12 days ago Dorp people cut the trees of their gardens in 25 – 30 acres of land and then set them on fire.

Khenda Tripura (65) said “I grew a mixed garden of teak, Gorjon, Gamari, mango and jackfruit in about 10 acres of land near my 2-acre plough land that I had been granted in 1982. The Dorp people have occupied both the plough land and the garden.”

Rongsaha Tripura said “I grew an orchard five years ago. Now my heart breaks when I look at the destroyed orchard.”

Zillyamoni, Rungkoma, Bikram Moni and many others said their titled lands and orchards had been grabbed by Dorp people.

Nurul Alam, a labourer employed by Dorp, said on orders of Dorp’s Executive Director Noman and its field organisers Ayub and Malek, 20 – 25 labourers cut the orchards of the Tripura people and then set fire to it.

In this regard Dorp’s Executive Director AHM Noman said they have 150 acres of hilly land in the area taken on lease. They have now taken initiative to grow a garden and build a hospital there. He claimed that the Tripuras did not possess any land in the said area.

A study of land leases records in the office of the Deputy Commissioner has revealed that Dorp’s chief coordinator Babul Kumar Adhikari, AHM Noman, Nurul Islam and some others have been granted lease of 25 acres each in Doluchari Mouza. The leases were granted in the year 2000. However, under the provision of CHT peace accord land leases and transfer of lands already leased out should have ceased. The District Council officials were of the same view that as per the District Council Act of 1998, these leases were illegal.

Professor Thanzama Lusai, chairman of Bandarban District Council, said the Chittagong Hill Tracts Ministry had been requested to revoke all the leases granted after the CHT peace accord and the District Council Acts came into effect and without prior permission of the Councils. He added that he will take actions after an inquiry into the activities of Dorp.

The Officer-in-charge (OC) of Lama police station, Abul Kashem, said he had been informed that an NGO styled DORP cleared the orchards and gardens belonging to the Tripura people and added that the issue was under investigation.

Mohammad Ali, chairman of Soroi Union Council, agrees that what Dorp has done is tantamount to grabbing of indigenous Tripura people’s land.

The Tripura villagers further said they had protested when their orchards were being cut. In order to scare the indigenous people off, the Dorp people filed a general diary (GD) with the local police station claiming that the Tripuras demanded Taka 2 lakhs (Taka 200 thousand) as subscription. They also alleged that the Dorp people had threatened them with arrest and even death.

Jonti, Manik Chandra, Bikram and Satyoram Tripura and many others said after the threats the indigenous people get frightened at the mere sight of police personnel in the area.

Based on Prothom Alo report published today, 18 May 2008. www.prothom-alo.com
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