Expressing grave concern over the situation of the hill people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), eminent citizens yesterday said it is frightening and might explode anytime, causing ripple effect across the country.
Quoting hill people, they said by continuing and strengthening settlement of the Bangalees in the hills and the land of the indigenous people, Bangalee settlers and the hill people are set against each other.
These observations were made in a report presented to journalists at the National Press Club in the city yesterday following the citizens' visit to CHT during January 28-30.
Professor Ajoy Roy, politician Pankaj Bhattacharya, journalists Kamal Lohani and Syed Abul Maksud, Dr Rashid E Mahbub, Dr Shaurav Shikder of Dhaka University, social worker Belal Ahmed and former additional secretary Rabindranath Trivedi were in the team that toured the area.
Presiding over the programme, Prof Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, former vice chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, said the present situation prevailing in CHT is a threat to the future of Bangladesh.
Some quarters might have been engaged to foil the next elections and the caretaker government must be aware of it and act accordingly, he said.
Pankaj Bhattacharya said, "A vested quarter is engaged in an ill effort to create anarchy in the country and hamper the national elections. I urge the government to look into the issue seriously."
He categorically said vested quarters are working with the agenda of Jamaat-e-Islami and fundamentalists in the name of Samadhikar Andolon (movements for equal rights).
Presenting the report prepared on their experience, Prof Ajoy Roy said taking advantage of the government's non-implementation of the CHT Peace accord, the civil administration continued Bangalee settlement, identification of non-hill people and provided them with certificates.
The army's activities in the name of curbing extortion and militant activities of United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF) and acquiring new hills have frightened the indigenous people, he said.
The hill people allege the government has conspiracy behind this, he said, adding that the programme that the government undertook in settling the Bangalees in the hills from the Guchchagram instead of rehabilitating the Jumma hill people has angered them.
Canceling the previous land settlements, the district administration is arbitrarily giving new settlements, which go against the interest of the hill people and in favour of the Bangalee settlers, Prof Ajoy noted.
As per regional council leaders, there are over one lakh hill refugees, but there is none to address the problem, Prof Ajoy said, adding that Bangalees are also occupying the religious structures.
The present ratio of hill people and Bangalees is now 52:48, but in the next census it will be tilted towards Bangalees, he said. Hill people think the number of voters will also override the number of the hill people in future, which is a threat to them.
On the other hand, the government is also helping the Rohingya Muslims who fled from Myanmar to settle at Naikkhangchhari, Ruma, Lama, and Alikadam in Bandarban. "Does the government then want to form a new CHT with Bangalee and Rohingya Muslims?" Prof Ajoy posed a question.
In the report, the citizens said the number of Jumma people will come down for various initiatives when CHT will be considered extension of the plain Chittagong.
"Colonial attitude of the government, army and Bangalees cannot resist the movement of hill people. We must accept the CHT hill people. So, sooner the Bangalee settlers are removed from the CHT, better is the result," the report said.