Sahebganj-Bagda Farm Update: IPs and Bengali farmers erect makeshifts on their lands acquired for Sugar Mill, despite govt indifference to their demand to back their lands

KF Report: Around two thousand indigenous and Bengali families demanded to return back their ancestral land that were acquired area for Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Limited in Gobindoganj upazila of Gaibandha district, and as government is not responding to their demand, since 1st July 2016, they have started to set up makeshift dwelling on that land. But the Mill authority and local administration with the help of the local Member of Parliament (MP) tried to evict them on 12 July 2016. Even police fired upon the agitators while 4 indigenous people (3 male and 1 female) were critically injured by the bullet and later they were detained by police and were sent to the Gaibandha jail. But the strong resistances from the indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers have foiled the eviction move of the mill authority. After the incident, the mill authority and the local administration filed 4 false cases against 31 indigenous and Bengali farmers and unnamed 400/500 persons.

Still, the families of indigenous people and Bengali farmers are staying on that land and they have also set up a school named Fulmoni Murmu Sishu Shikkha O Sankritik Kendro for the children of struggling families. But they are living an unhygienic life because of unavailability of sanitation system and water crisis and passing days with insecurity fearing further attack and intimidation with false cases by the Mill authority, police and vested interest groups. At present the families who are living on that lands are facing harassment and mill authority is continuously threatening them which is making their life unbearable. With the help of the local authorities, some local influential people are creating pressure on these people. The agitator alleged that the local MP is also trying to evict them from the land.

Indigenous and Bengali farmers of Sahebganj-Bagda farm area under Gobindoganj upazila of Gaibandha district have been demanding the return of 1842.30 acres land acquired for Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Limited since 2014, alleging that the authorities violated the contract by cultivating crops other than sugarcane and leasing out parts of the land to the influential people. They have been organising different kinds of demonstration like mass gathering, human chain, press conference, discussion, roundtable, memorandum submission and delivering statement to the press were performed by Sahebganj Bagda Farm Land Rescue Action Committee, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Kapaeeng Foundation and Civil Society Members both at the local level and national level. On 5 September 2016, a support group of Civil Society for land rights of indigenous peoples of plain land organised press conference and demanded to the government to return back land of Sahebganj-Bagda farm to the original owners of indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers.

The main concern of the agitators was after the announcement of lay off of Rangpur Sugar Mill in 2004, the authority started violating the contract and doing mismanagement of the acquired land. The mill authority gave lease of the acquired land to the local influential people and they started cultivating paddy, wheat, mustard, potato, tobacco and hybrid corn instead of sugar cane which has also proved in the report of deputy commissioner of Gaibandha published on 21 June 2015 (memo no: 05.55.3200. after the visit of Sahebganj-Bagda farm area on 30 March 2015.  Deputy Commissioner stated in the report that he found evidence of plantation of paddy, tobacco and other crops in the land of Sugar mill. The agitator pointed out this mismanagement of land is clearly a violation of the no 5 clause of the contract between Pakistan Industrial Corporation and East Pakistan government on 7th July 1962. The clause has clearly mentioned that government can return back the acquired land from Pakistan Industrial Corporation and give back to the original land owners by the restoration.

But unfortunately, the original landowners still do not get a single amount of land. On the other hand, the Mill Authority is playing game with the acquired land of Bagda farm. On 10 May 2016, Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha district has proposed (memo no: 05.55.3200. to establish a special economic zone to Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA). It is clear that a conspiracy is going on regarding the 1842.30 acres land, so that the mill authority does not have to give back the lands to the original landowners.

Notable that, in 1962 East Pakistan government acquired 1842.30 acres of land belonging to indigenous peoples and Bengali farmers to cultivate sugar cane for the Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Ltd. As a result, residents of 15 indigenous villages and 5 Bengali villages in the area of Rampur, Sapmara, Madarpur, Narangabad and Chakarahimpur mouza under Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha district were evicted from their homes. Later they spread over to different regions of the country as a result of evictions and were forced to live a miserable life. In this regard, indigenous peoples were seriously affected. As per the agreement related to this property, if the sugarcane project is closed down and any crops other than sugarcane is cultivated, then the government is bound to return (surrender) the acquired 1842.30 acres to the land original owners. The government took the property to go back to the previous state. On 31March 2004, production of Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills Ltd. was closed down due to corruptions, mismanagement of authorities and damage of the mill. But the terms of the agreement were violated by the government as the Sugar Mills Authority has leased out the property to influential individuals and racketeers for the cultivation of rice, wheat, corn, tobacco, potatoes, mustard, etc in the property instead of sugar cane. In this situation indigenous and marginalized farmers who have lost land have complained to the Government several times to get back the acquired 1842.30 acres of land.

Published on 7 September 2016.