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Rangpur Sugar Mill: Santals owned most of land before deal: 1962 agreement condition flouted by leasing out part of the land allowing cultivation of crops other than sugarcane

[ Though the land was acquired for sugarcane farming to produce raw materials for the Rangpur Sugar Mills Ltd at Mohimaganj in Gobindaganj, a portion of it was leased out for cultivating different other crops, flouting an agreement of 1962. Photo: Star ] 

The Santals had owned most of the land, now at the centre of a row in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha, before the government acquired it in the 50s, according to old land records.
Though the land was acquired for sugarcane farming to produce raw materials for the Rangpur Sugar Mills Ltd at Mohimaganj in Gobindaganj, a portion of it was leased out for cultivating different other crops, flouting an agreement of 1962.
For this violation, the sugar mill should no longer remain the owner of the land and its management is supposed to surrender the land to the government, as per one of the conditions of the agreement. 
The issue of original ownership came up following the November 6 eviction of 1,500 families, including 1,200 of Santals, from the land as they had built houses on part of it.
Local lawmaker Abul Kalam Azad and Industries Ministry Secretary Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan claim that the Santals never owned the land.
"That land never belonged to Santals; it was owned by Bangalees," Abul Kalam Azad told The Daily Star on November 14.
But the Santals firmly claim that they owned most of the land before it was acquired in 1954-56.
"Almost two-thirds land of the farm belonged to the Santal community while the rest to Bangalees and other indigenous communities,” said Rabindra Nath Soren, president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad.
"Almost 1,200 of about 1,842 acres of land were taken from Santals. We have land documents and also khatian [survey] maps," he said.
“Even the Sahebganj-Bagda farm [the sugarcane farm] bears the name of Bagda Soren, a leader of the Santal community."
The Daily Star checked old land records and also the agreement signed between Rangpur district administration and Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation on July 7, 1962.
The documents and the report of Cadastral Survey (completed in 1940) back the Santals' claims.
It is found that the Pakistan government acquired about 1,842 acres under the mouzas of Rampur, Shapmara, Chak Rahimapur, Madarpur and Narangabad in 1955-56, promising both Santals and Bangalees labourer's job at the sugarcane farm.
"I have checked land records of 1937 of those mouzas and found that Santals were the original owner of the land," said researcher Pavel Partha, who is doing a study on the land ownership issue of the Sahebganj-Bagda farm.
The documents (JL-114 and 187) of Chak Rahimapur mouza, dated February 5, 1937, show that Bagda Soren, a Santal feudal lord, was the owner of the land and he had given the land to another Santal, Bujun Hasda, for farming.
There are several other records and maps that show the land of those mouzas belonged to Santals.
This newspaper collected these documents from land offices, indigenous leaders and researchers.   
Advocate AKM Bulbul, programme officer of Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD), said the Santals were the original owner of the land.
The land currently belongs to the government. But the claim of the Santals is still valid because of a “unique clause” in the agreement signed in 1962, he said, referring to clause No 5.
"And we think this is a moral obligation of the government to give back the land to its original owner," said Bulbul.
Clause No 3 of the agreement reads, “... the provincial government shall make over possession of the said land to the aforesaid corporation for the purpose of establishment of a sugarcane farm at Sahebganj. But the aforesaid corporation shall not change the character of the requisitioned property.”
In clause No 5, it is stated, "... if it is decided that the land shall not be acquired for the aforesaid purpose, the said corporation shall surrender the land to the provincial government for its release and restoration ... And the corporation shall bear all costs and compensation in connection with the release and restoration of the land.”
Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation was dissolved after the country's independence. The sugar mill went under Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation while Gobindaganj became a upazila of Gaibandha district. 
According to the deal, the Pakistan government paid “Rs 8,07,318-10-6 (Rupees eight lakh seven thousand three hundred eighteen annas ten and paisa six)” for the 1,842 acres of land taken from the inhabitants of 20 villages.
Of the 20 villages, 15 were Santal dominated and the rest were inhabited by Bangalees.
Besides, the section 17 of the Acquisition and Requisition of Immovable Property Ordinance, 1982, says, “No property acquired under this part shall, without the prior approval of the government, be used for any purpose other than the purpose for which it is acquired.”
The mill authorities violated this too.
As the sugar mill suspended its operation in 2004, the land of the sugarcane farm was leased to individuals following a decision made by Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation in 2009, according to official documents obtained by this correspondent.
The officials of Gobindaganj upazila land office visited the sugarcane farm in May last year. They found that 1,502 of 1,842 acres of land were leased for cultivating various crops, according to a land office document. 
The land was being used for growing crops, including potato, tobacco, pumpkin and rice.
In another document, the then assistant commissioner (land) Aleya Khatun wrote that the sugar mill cultivated sugarcane in only 98 acres of land in FY2014-15.
However, the factory authorities claim the lease was cancelled last year.
A document of Gaibandha district administration, dated May 15 this year, described the 1,842-acre land as “abandoned and not in use” and suggested the government make a special economic zone on the land.
"Yes. We submitted a proposal for a special economic zone. Now the government will decide on it," said Abdus Samad, the deputy commissioner of Gaibandha.
Talking to The Daily Star, Prof Abul Barakat said the land is not suitable for a special economic zone.
This land is fertile and farmers can produce three varieties of crops here, he said as he studied the Sahebganj-Bagda farm issue.
"And there is no highway by the land and it is not connected to any river route either, which is a pre-condition of a special economic zone,” he added.
Reopened in 2006, the sugar mill is currently in operation. The government has to give a huge amount of subsidy every year to run it.

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