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Monday, December 13, 2010

Separate land commission for plain land minorities envisaged

Courtesy: New Age, Dhaka, National, 12 Dec 2010
Web: http://www.newagebd.com/2010/dec/12/nat.html

Separate land commission for plain land minorities envisaged
Staff Correspondent

The government is seriously considering the formation of a separate land commission to deal with land disputes of the ethnic minorities of the plain lands.

Food minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque on Friday assured the Garo community at Madhupur in Tangail that the government would not make any move to evict them from the forests lands where they have been living for centuries.

The assurance was voiced after a number of Garo leaders expressed concern over their right to their ancestral lands when the minister was addressing the Garo community at its annual post-harvest festival — Wangala — in Madhupur.

‘We are preparing to set up a separate land commission to solve the land-related problems of the plain land ethnic minorities,’ said Abdur Razzaque, who is also one of the lawmakers from Madhupur.

He said that the Awami League-led government was determined to establish the rights of the ethnic minorities and there was no possibility of evicting them from their homesteads and ancestral lands. The Garo fear that they will be evicted from their homesteads on the lands that have been handed over to the forest department.

They opposed the government’s plan for eviction and rehabilitation of the ethnic people who do not have any documentary right to the land they have been living in for hundreds of years on the plea of development and protection of the reserved forests.

The minister said that the government had initially thought that the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission should be empowered to resolve the land disputes of the ethnic minorities of the plain lands. But the ethnic communities of the CHT, he mentioned, opposed the idea, fearing that this might bring about complications in the work of the CHT Land Commission, which is yet to function effectively.

He said that the ethnic people of the area were being involved in a project to protect the forests more effectively.

The US ambassador in Dhaka, James F Moriarty, also spoke on the occasion as the special guest. Garo leader Ajoy A Mree said that the Garo community had no documentary right to the land in Madhupur Gar, in which they have lived for generations, which is now being managed by the forest department.

‘There was a time when each and every family used to celebrate the Wangala every year after harvesting crops to thank the gods,’ Ajoy told New Age. ‘But these people are now suffering from uncertainty over the ownership of their ancestral lands, and many of them have converted to Christianity from nature worshippers and, therefore, don’t celebrate the festival anymore.’

He hoped that separate land commission would help solve the land-related problems of around 25,000 people of the Garo community who do not have any documents on the ownership of their lands.

Young boys and girls presented a cultural show to celebrate the thanksgiving day of the Garo community.

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