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Rangpur sugar mill farmland: Over 1,000 Santal families left in trap

July 31, 2016 7:06 pm
More than 1,000 Santal families are left in a trap as local ruling Awami League activists, who have reportedly brought them from different districts promising them ‘restoration of their ownership’ on the lands of Shahebganj-Bagda farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills in Gaibandha, have withdrawn support for them.
The ethnic minority families are now looking forward to the help of different rights organisations and activists in ‘restoration of their ownership rights’ on the farmland.
With a call from a group of local influential people, mostly AL activists, the Santal families coming from different parts of the country set up makeshift dwellings on the farmland recently demanding ‘restoration of their ownership’ on the land.
They claimed that the then Pakistan government forcibly acquired the land from their forefathers without any compensation.
They also said that the government was supposed to restore their ownership on the land as per the acquirement agreement as the lands were no more being used for the purposes of sugarcane farming.
They occupied the lands following the formation of Shahebganj-Bagda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Songram Committee in 2015 under the leadership of AL activist Md Shakil Ahammad Bulbul and Md
Sahjahan Prodhan for the restoration of their rights on the lands.
Shakil was elected chairman of Shapmara union as an independent candidate in the recently held union parishad elections cashing the movement of the ethnic minority people, local people said.
The sugar mill authority alleged that the committee was formed to grab the farmland instigating and using the Santal families.
Shakil denied the allegation and told New Age on July 28 that he was no more with the committee.
He said that he became inactive in the committee realising that there was no valid grounds behind the demand of the Santals and a third force was using his popularity.
Shakil said that he already decided to cooperate with the government in evicting the Santals from the farmland peacefully.
General secretary of the committee Sahajahan Prodhan could not be reached despite repeated attempts for his comments.
Subol Hembrom, one of the leaders of the Santal families, talking to New Age at his makeshift camp on the farmland in the past week, said that they returned to their ‘forefathers’ land’ following a call from the committee hoping restoration of their ownership on
the land.
He said that about 1,500 families returned to the land and set up makeshift houses.
Virului Hembrom, who hailed from Pirganj of Rangpur along with five-member family, said that after being ‘evicted’ from the area in 1956 his parents moved to Pirganj and set up house on a khas land.
‘Being informed by the committee we are now here as it is our ancestral land… We want restoration of ownership on the land for our survival,’ he said.
Virlui, however, said that they were now left in a trap as they could not move freely.
Luis Hembrom, who hailed from Nababganj of Dinajpur, said that they were being attacked by the local influential people when they were going out for work.
‘We are leading a miserable life here without required food and other basic facilities,’ he said.
According to official records, the then Pakistan government acquired 1,842.20 acres of land for East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation for the establishment of sugarcane farm at Shahebganj in 1955-1956.
An agreement between the then East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation and the East Pakistan provincial government signed on July 7, 1962 mentioned that the land was only meant for the establishment of a sugarcane farm.
Clause 5 of the agreement stated that the lands would be returned to the original owners if the lands were found to be used for any other purpose.
Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation’s acting chairman AKM Delwar Hussain said that the Santals were claiming ownership of the land citing the Clause 5.
‘But their demand has no legal grounds as the sugar mill is in operation,’ he said, claiming that the farmlands were being used for the mills.
About one-fifth of the land was, however, found to be used for sugarcane farming and the rest was found either uncultivated or to be used for cultivate different crops.
The managing director of the sugar mills at Mohimaganj of Gaibandha, Md Abdul Awal, said that they had leased out the farmlands after the mill was laid off in 2004 but they were now using the lands for sugarcane farming by rotation cancelling the leases.
Gaibandha deputy commissioner Md Abdus Samad said that there was no provision in the existing acquisition laws to return lands to their original owners.
‘So the demand of the Santals has no legal ground and they have to leave the farmland on their own or face eviction anytime,’ he said, adding that the district administration had acquired the land giving compensation.
The local administration conducted an eviction drive on July 12 following the directive of industries ministry triggering clashes between the police and the Santals.
At a meeting at National Press Club on July 20, politician Pankaj Bhattacharya, lawmakers Ushatan Talukder and Tipu Sultan, rights activists Sultana Kamal, Syed Abul Maksud, Khushi Kabir, academics Robayet Ferdous and Sadeka Halim, ethnic minority leaders Sanjeeb Drong and Rabindranath Soren extended their support to the demand of the Santals.

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