CHT peace accord: Make the Regional Council effective

Government policy makers, former cabinet members and representatives of various ethnic minority communities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts attended the programme marking the silver jubilee of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council on 27 May.

Undoubtedly, the speeches of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council chairman and the state minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs would be different. But both of them agreed on one thing: both of them put emphasis on implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord to bring back peace and prosperity in the hills. State minister Kujendra Lal Tripura requested the both sides to work together forgetting their past bitterness and sensitivity.

At the same time, he also has to acknowledge that the full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord is the responsibility of the government. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, one of the prime signatories of the peace accord, has been demanding for the full implementation of the accord, and election in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council and District Council as per the agreement.

The accord stipulated about creating a separate voter list containing the permanent dwellers of the region for holding the district council elections, which has not been implemented in the last 25 years. Currently the district council consists of the leaders of the governing party.

Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, the chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council and president of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti alleged that the council has intentionally been kept dysfunctional. There is no scope to dub this allegation baseless. Though the council is formally called Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, a rather high sounding name, actually it neither has the infrastructure nor any rules.

The question that pops up consequently is, why have the rules and organogram not been finalised in the last 25 years? Surely the Jana Samhati Samiti cannot be blamed for this.

The CHT peace accord spoke about maintaining the distinctive characteristics of the hilly terrain. But the reality is that distinctive nature is no longer there now. The hill people have become marginalised in their own backyard. On the other hand, the problems regarding their land ownership have also not been resolved. Even the land commission is not able to hold meetings regularly for the strikes and blockades of the people against the accord.

The government formed by the Bangladesh Awami League signed the CHT Peace Accord on 2 December 1997. They were in power for another three and a half years. The Awami League has been in power again for the last 15 consecutive years except seven years in between. The political parties that opposed the signing of the accord could dilly-dally about implementing the accord but why would the AL government, one of the signatories, do so?

Whereas the government on every 2 December highlights how many sections of the accord have been implemented, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti expresses its grievance saying that the accord is not being implemented. This is not a sign of protecting a peaceful environment there.

From the very beginning a section of the hill people and mainstream political parties were opposing signing the accord. The anti-accord quarter would get more scopes if the implementation of the accord is delayed. Non-implementation of the peace accord is the reason for the intermittent clashes in the hill as well. The government should implement the remaining sections of the accord immediately and take necessary steps to make the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council effective.

Operation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council without any rules for a quarter century is also not acceptable at all.