Habiganj tea workers launch movement to save land they cultivate

Some 16,000 tea workers in Habiganj have launched a movement to prevent a government takeover of land they cultivate to grow food.

Faiham Ebna Sharif, from Habiganjbdnews24.com
Published : 25 Dec 2015, 09:56 AM
Updated : 28 Dec 2015, 06:53 PM

The government intends to acquire the land to set up a special economic zone.

The workers staged demonstrations on Dec 20 and submitted a memorandum to the district deputy commissioner.

They have threatened to intensify their movement if their demands are not met within seven days.

The Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA) took steps to take back the 511.83 acres of land leased to Duncan Brothers in Chandpur of Chunarughat Upazila after the government announced it would set up 100 special economic zones.

The tea workers, who have been cultivating the land for generations, closed ranks when they learnt of the government move through media reports.
They formed a ‘Land Protection Committee’ on Dec 1 to protect the land they hold.

But, on Dec 12, the local administration installed demarcation pillars and took possession of it.

The next day, several thousand workers of the Chandpur, Ramgonga, Joalbhanga and Begum Khan tea estates occupied the land, refusing to go to work.

Workers of 23 tea estates from the nearby Laskarpur Valley joined the movement on Dec 19.

“We want the government to call off its land acquisition move. We have been surviving on it for generations. We want this land be registered in our favour,” said Kanchan Patra, joint convener of the Land Protection Committee.

“Before the Liberation War, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had himself promised to ensure our right to this land,” he said, adding that they had raised the same demand when they met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2012.

“We have recently sent another application to the prime minister.”

The tea workers said they were not against any development plan.

But with a daily wage of merely Tk 69 and hardly any access to education, housing, or medical facilities, the workers heavily depended on this land for their survival.

The government should set up the economic zone on some barren land elsewhere in Chunarughat, instead of on the tea estate, said Nripen Pal, member secretary of the committee.

“We have given the government a seven-day ultimatum … If our demands are not met by then [Dec 27], we will wage a tougher movement.”

Contacted, Chunarughat Upazila Nirbahi Officer Masudul Kabir said the tea estates were leased out in 1972 but the lessee firm could not use the entire piece of land for tea cultivation. Rather, they have allowed the workers to use part of the estate for agricultural purposes.

“This is a low-lying fallow land. Not many crops grow there ... What the workers fail to realise is that an economic zone will benefit them as well.”