Demanding cancellation of EPZ; Santal issuance Memorandum to Gaibandha Deputy Commissioner

Protest Rally

Santal farmers of Sahebganj Bagadgada-farm under Gobindganj Upazila in Gaibandha district issued a memorandum to Deputy Commissioner of Gaibandha district in Bangladesh on 21 April 2022 to cancel the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) establishment plan on 1842.30 acres of Santal land after the protest procession. Hundreds of Santals and local Bengali farmers participates the procession holding with their traditional weapons arrow and bow. The protest rally and Memorandum submission program was organized by Sahebganj Bangda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee (SBBUSC) and Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP) Central Committee. They claim, Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) has announced the establishment plan of EPZ without maintaining the proper and meaningful consultation with the indigenous Santal and Bengali farmers.

Memorandum Submission

In memorandum, they mentioned the establishment plan of EPZ is a conspiracy to wipe-out the Santal people in the name of EPZ project by BEPZA. The Santal are cultivating three crops in this land. As per the announcement of the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, such project cannot be done by destroying three-crop land. On 24th August 2021 the Chairman of BEPZA has unilaterally announced to established EPZ project in Sahebganj Bagda-farm 1842.30 area of land. ‍Since then the Santal and Bengali farmers have been opposing the EPZ project on their ancestral land. They urged the BEPZA authority and concerned administration to withdrawing the announcement of EPZ establishment on the forefathers land (1842.30 acres) of Santals who have significant contributions on the liberation war 1971.

Also they mentioned the Santals have been living in Sahebganj Bagda-farm 1842.30 area of land for a long period of time. In 1956 the East Pakistan Government established Mahimaganj (Rangpur) Sugar Mill Corporation on this 1842.30 acre of land. As a result, the Santals and Bengali farmers occupied cultivable land 1842.30 have requisite by the Government under the agreement of the East Bengal (Emergency) Requisition of Property Act 1948 (No-VIII of 1948) in accordance with its provision for sugarcane cultivation and supply of sugarcane. In 1962 the same Government executes a contract under the Requisition of Property Act 1948. The agreement stipulates that if the land requisition for work (Sugarcane cultivation) is not done, the land will be returned to the previous owners along with compensation. Based on this condition, the indigenous Santal and Bengali farmers are demanding return of their ancestral land from the Government and concerned authorities.

Mass Gathering at in front of Deputy Commissioner Office, Gaibandha.

Noted, Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mill so called Sahebganj Bagda-farm was closed down due to corruptions, mismanagement of authorities in 2004. Mills authority also violated the agreement of East Bengal (Emergency) Requisition of Property Act 1948 (Clause-5) by giving lease to local influential. In this situation indigenous and marginalized Bengali farmers who have lost land have complained to the Government several times to get back their forefathers acquired 1842.30 acre of land in 1962 as per the contract. In spite of resolving the complaints, Mill authority continuously violated the agreement and gave lease the land (1842.30 acre) to the local influential. As a result of severe irregularities in the workplace Rangpur Sugar Mills Ltd., incurred a net operating loss. Even today the Mills operating loss of Tk. 522,395,847 in the year of 2019-2020 respectively, shows its year end (June 2020) Auditors Report. This report also states, rate of sugar recovery from sugarcane is gradually decreasing year by year.

In continuation of this situation, the indigenous Santal and marginalized farmer started strong movement to rescue their forefathers land under a platform Sahebganj Bagda-farm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee (SBBUSC). When the movement was gaining acceptance from the mass people, local political leaders the Santal and Bengali peasants started living to their forefathers land (1842.30 acres) by making temporary shed with bamboo, straw, chhan and Tin, etc since 2014.

6 Nov 2016 a massive attack led by Rangpur Sugar Mills Ltd., hired goons, Police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) had killed 3 Santal, injured more than 30 and evict almost 1200 Santal families in the name of restore 1842.30 acre of farm land. Almost six-years have passed since the incidence yet Santal get justice. PBI (Police Bureau of Investigation) investigate the case and submitted charge-sheet on 28 July 2019. PBI presented charge-sheet without naming any policeman as well as ex-Member of Parliament Abul Kalam Azad (MP) who was the mastermind of the incident of November 6, 2016, according to the local people. On 4 September 2019 Advocate Z. I. Khan Panna and associates, filed a writ-petition to the Senior Judicial Magistrate’s Court in Gobindaganj to discard the charge-sheet. The Senior Judicial Magistrate’s Court in Gobindaganj later pursues the case to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Bangladesh Police. On 2 December 2020 the CID made almost same probe without mentioning the main mastermind and the police. On January 4, 2021 Santal’s again filed no-confidence petition on 16-point to the CID probe to discard. The hearing has not been held twice (12/09/2021 and 06/12/2021) due to the vacant position of Senior Judicial Magistrate of Gobindaganj Upazila Magistrate Court in Gaibandha district. Next date has been fixed for the court order on 10th May 2022.