On 7 March 2018, Kapaeeng Foundation, CHT Headmen Network, and CHT Citizen Committee jointly organized a dialogue titled “Participation of local people in inclusive development” at Foromon Conference Hall, Borgaang Resort, Rangamati with the support of Direct Aid Program of the Australian High Commission, Dhaka.
The dialogue was attended by Mr. Nurul Alam, Honorable Member, CHT Regional Council, Professor Banchita Chakma, Honorable Member, National Human Rights Commission, Mr. S M Chowdhury, Chairman, Kawkhali Upazila Parishad, Rangamati, Mr. Arun Kanti Chakma, Chairman, Rangamati Sadar Upazila Parishad, Mr. Nahil Imam, Program Manager, Development Cooperation, Australian High Commission, Dhaka and a number of prominent local academics, politicians, journalists, and development workers. Mr. Goutam Dewan, President of CHT Citizen Committee chaired the event while Thowai Aung Marma, Vice-President of CHT Headmen Network moderated the program.
The main focus of the dialogue was to strengthen meaningful participation of the local people in development process. It also highlighted different issues related to indigenous peoples including the hazard of landslides, situation of human rights defenders, participatory engagement of indigenous peoples in decision making level, and capacity building among indigenous women leaders and representatives.
The dialogue offered a platform for more than 32 development workers, civil society members and human rights activists to discuss and exchange their views and ideas about opportunities and challenges of inclusive development in the CHT.
The program commenced with a welcome speech by Mr. Pallab Chakma, Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation followed by a keynote presentation by Mr. Ashok Kumar Chakma Executive Director, Moanoghar. The main objectives of the keynote were to provide a general picture of development programs in the CHT region; and to look into the development programs whether they are inclusive or not. In the keynote, Mr. Chakma urged development must be indigneous friendly and systematic. He addressed that the two third of the provisions of CHT Accord have not yet been implemented. Due non-implementation of the Accord, the special administration system composed of the CHT Regional Council and the 3 Hill District Councils has remained largely inactive. Therefore, without full implementation of CHT Accord, peaceful development process in CHT may not be possible. He further addressed that most of the ongoing development programs in CHT are ‘forced’ on people (without proper consultation with the local people) which he considers as an evil act that is politically motivated just to grab lands of the local peoples. Mr. Chakma concluded the keynote presentation by providing a few recommendations. These are-
- The CHT Accord 1997 provides a basis for development in CHT. Therefore, the Accord must be properly implemented;
- A Prospective plan needs to be developed for a long-term development for the CHT region recognizing the distinct characteristics of CHT;
- Affirmative actions should be taken in terms of allocating funds for children, women, small ethnic groups and persons with disabilities;
- Effective measures should be taken for peacebuilding addressing the root causes of conflicts in the CHT.
Pallab Chakma addressed, immediately after signing the CHT Accord in 1997, an opportunity for development sector was open for systematic development intervention in CHT. However, due to not being indigenous friendly, development activities carried out have produced little impact on grassroots communities. The ongoing projects have failed to fulfil the expectation of grassroots people. He emphasized to implement them in consultation with local peoples. Mr. Chakma further said, there is no visible development from the government side for the fringe land area in CHT. Though the government takes many initiatives for the minorities, such plans seldom see lights. Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh are even absent in the country’s SDGs implementation process, he further added. Development is not possible without taking the country’s indigneous people on board.
Mr. Santi Bijoy Chakma addressed, for any kind of development intervention in CHT, we must include the grassroots people. Development organizations must have consultation before any development projects are implemented.
Mr. Arun Kanti Chakma said, there is no security of the life of indigenous peoples. Especially women are the most vulnerable section of the society. Bangladesh Government often treat indigenous peoples in discriminatory manner, he added. Development projects are implemented without any assessment and proper consultation with the local people and public representatives of the region, Mr. Chakma further said. He believes forced development never benefits the grassroots communities. Most development projects in CHT are implemented without following appropriate procedure.
Banchita Chakma addressed, development projects should focus on the poor families who live below the poverty line. However, people friendly development projects are hardly seen in the region. Therefore, she urged to create a mechanism to focus on the grassroots communities in order to bring them under inclusive development process. Furthermore, she emphasized on focusing multilingual pre-primary education system in CHT region. Despite having available books, there is considerable lack of qualified teachers in the region and it is due to lack of a proper plan from the government side.
Mr. Nahil Imam said, the Australian government has a positive interest on the indigenous issues in Bangladesh. Mr. Imam states, through education, indigenous peoples can irradicate any kind of obstacles in the society. On behalf of Austrailian High Commission, he promised to support self-governance and sustainability of the indigenous peoples in CHT. He assured that Australian Government is interested to support development acitivities of indigenous communities of Bangladesh.
Mr. Nurul Alam said, the CHT was untouched by development for a long period of time due to civil unrest in the region. However, signing of the CHT Accord created many development opportunities in the region. Unfortunately, non-implementation of the Accord has hampered the development process to a major extent. Mr. Alam regretes that most development projects are implemented without concern of the local people and without giving any priority to the provisions of the Accord.
Abbash Uddin Chawdhury (Executive Director, PARA) said, it is unfortunate that Bangladesh Army do not consult and engage local people during implementation of any development projects in CHT. Mr. Chowdhury recommended for justifying whether indigenous issues are properly incorporated in the 7th fifth-year plan (2016-20).
Sakahawat Hossain Rubel (President, Press Club, Rangamati) said, 98 percent of the projects by CHT Devleopment Board have been implemented incorretly. He emphasized on prioritizing more on the private sector for the development in CHT.
Lalit Chakma (Executive Director, SAS) addressed politics and development are interrelated. Without any political decision, development cannot take place. Mr. Chakma said, one of the essential parts of the development is leadership and that leadership has to come out from the regional political group. He further said that local political groups must act as a pressure group, where they can pressurize the government to implement the development projects in a proper way.
Himel Chakma (Journalist, Manabkantha), development should not affect the cultural heritage and livelihoods of the indigenous peoples. Development projects should be implemented according to the needs of people.
Mr. Goutam Dewan (President, CHT Citizen Committee) addressed that the position of the government is not clear regarding implementation of the CHT Accord. He alleged that the CHT Accord has been signed to resolve the conflict in CHT. However, the government is violating the provisions of the Accord in the name of development. The term development has become one of the threats for the indigenous peoples. Wherever development is taken place, security forces and settlers have grabbed the lands of the indigenous peoples, he further added. There is always a tendency of ignoring the indigenous people during policy formation regarding development in local level.
Following are the recommendation addressed by the participants:
- Development projects should engage local people and ensure meaningful participation of indigenous peoples;
- Free, Prior, and Informed Consent should be taken from respective communities prior to implementing any initiative regarding tourism and development.
- Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord should be implemented with specific time frame.
- Participation of indigenous women in decision-making level should be ensured.
- Appropriate initiative should be taken to stop violence against indigenous women.
- Perpetrators who violate land rights of indigenous peoples should be punished.