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Santals demand their lands back

Limon Bashar     20 November, 2016 12:00 AM 

Sugarcane on Fire - A mysterious fire breaks out at a sugarcane field of Rangpur Sugar Mills in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha district on Saturday, destroying sugarcane on around eight acres of land. - sun photo

The Santals of Gobindaganj under Gaibandha district demand back their ancestral lands as sugarcane cultivation, for which those were acquired, is not being done there.

According to sources, the condition laid in the agreement between the then government and the Santals of Sapmara in Gobindaganj provided that the lands will be returned to the owners, if sugarcane cultivation is not done there. It was further said that the lands will be used only for Rangpur Sugar Mills, known also as Mahimaganj Sugar Mills.

Old documents preserved by the Santals revealed that 1842.30 acres of lands under four moujas were acquired through an agreement signed on July 7, 1962. Paragraph 5 of the agreement said, “These lands are acquired for sugar mills and sugarcane cultivation. If ever anything is done in these lands other than sugarcane cultivation then these lands would be returned to the original owners.”

It has been revealed through investigation that according to the RS record of 1940, basically Santals are the owners of these lands. Along with these, there is some land of coal and orao ethnic groups also. The demarcation of the lands done in 1962 specified which land belongs to whom. The names of most of the owners are Saren, Tudo, Munda etc. They are the predecessors of those who are demanding the lands now. After 40 years of acquisition, the sugar mills was temporarily laid off once in 2002 and again in 2004. Afterwards, the sugarcane cultivation was stopped. Subsequently, in phases the lands were leased out to local influential people at Tk 10 to 20 thousand per bigha. Instead of sugarcane, the leaseholders cultivate there paddy, tobacco, pumpkin, mustard, potato and other seasonal crops. The sugar mills authorities during the last 12 years earned over Tk100 crore by leasing out about 5.5 thousand bighas of lands going beyond the lease. The adivasi leaders claimed that Tk 100 crore realised through illegal leasing out also belongs to them. Central president of adivasi parishad Rabindranath Saren said the lands belong to Santals and they must get back the lands with compensation. But the leaders and activists of the ruling party are hatching various conspiracies to grab the lands worth taka several hundred crore. The attack on the houses of the Santals and the plundering there are the continuation of this conspiracy. A section of those in the administration are with these conspirators. Because of this, the original documents are being removed and the actual facts are being concealed.

General Secretary of Bagdafarm land recovery committee Shahjahan Ali said a prayer was submitted to the Gaibandha DC on March 15, 2015 to recover more than 1842.30 acres of lands from Rangpur Sugar Mills and return those to landless adivasi farmers. But no initiative has yet been taken in this regard.  

Prof Abul Barakat of Dhaka University economics department on return from a visit to Santal areas in Gobindaganj said there is no doubt that the lands belong to Santals. They have told him that these lands are of their ancestors and they demand these back.

Sugarcane farm catches fire
UNB from Gaibandha adds: Amid huge outcry over the recent death of two Santal men in a clash with law enforcers and Rangpur Sugar Mill workers over a land dispute, a fire broke out at Bagda sugarcane farm of the mill in Sahebganj area of Gobindaganj upazila on Saturday.

Gobindaganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Abdul Hannan said a group of unidentified miscreants set fire to I Block of Bagda Farm owned by Rangpur Sugar Mill at Fakirganj around 2pm.

Seeing the bellowing smoke, officials and workers of the farm brought the matter to the notice of the sugar mill authorities and police.

Later, law enforcers and a fire-fighting unit rushed in and doused the blaze after one and half hours with the help of local people and farm workers.

Miscreants set fire to the sugarcane field to cause financial losses to the mill, said Rangpur Sugar Mill MD Abdul Awal adding that the sugarcane on nearly seven acres of land, out of 11 under the block, was damaged in the fire.
The extent of losses was primarily said to be Tk 5 lakh.

Gobindaganj upazila remained tense since two Santal men were killed and 30 people, including nine policemen, injured following a clash with law enforcers and workers of Rangpur Sugar Mill on November 6.

The clash broke out when workers of Rangpur Sugar Mills along with police went to Bagda Farm area to reclaim land of the sugar mill allegedly occupied by the Santal community.

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