Chittagong Hill Tracts a sanctuary for extortionists
People claim the districts under triple rule virtually
[dropcap font=”arial” fontsize=”60″]T[/dropcap]he Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), the one-tenth territory of the country’s total area, has been turned into a sanctuary for extortionists. Like tax and levy, imposed by the constitutional government, extortion is open and seemingly legislative in the three districts. Whoever, either hilly or Bengali, if wish to initiate any business s/he has to pay ransom to the tribal armed groups– Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF). Sources estimated that the extremist groups and their wings earn hefty sums from the illegal toll collection that use as logs of their anti-state struggle.
Sources said that people have to pay extortion to the armed cadres if they get involved with any earning whatever it is, no matter. Recently, law enforcers have compiled the rate of extortion money impose on several products and services by the peace accord-supporter JSS and anti-accord group UPDF. The data showed that the JSS and UPDF collect toll on per cubic feet wood and per hundred bamboos. The militant outfits defined toll at different rates depending on wood, bamboo, or professional varieties. For each bunch of banana, the farmer pays Tk 6 and Tk 10 to JSS and UPDF respectively. The JSS collects toll at 12 percent and six percent rate on selling each cow and each goat, while the UPDF charges Tk 200 for each cow and Tk 100 for each goat. A professional fisherman pays Tk 40,000 and Tk 50,000 annually to JSS and UPDF respectively. Others also have to pay according to the list of subscription.
Except the regular toll collection, the outfits, and their wings— Pahari Chhatra Parishad (PCP) and Hill Women Federation collect subscriptions time to time. The separatist outfits collect toll and donation from individuals on the eve of social and religious festivals. Apart from the Bengalis, hilly tribal people also have to pay extortion regularly. Each rich family has to pay Tk 800 to JSS and UPDF separately, while middle-income family pays Tk 500 to JSS and Tk 600 to UPDF, and the low-income family pays Tk 300 to JSS and Tk 400 to UPDF. Sources claimed that the extorted money is the lifeline of the anti-Bangladesh campaign in and abroad and for the armament their garrison. Innocent Bengali people are the prime target of extortion and illegal toll imposition while tribes, except Chakma, are not barred off.
People feared if they decline to pay the ransom, they might be subject of violence, abduction, sexual harassment, and killing. Even, the fear of terror compels the people to keep their lips tight. It is alleged that law enforcers are most of the time are helpless observers. Intelligence sources said around 5,000 armed cadres of JSS and UPDF are remaining involved with the illegal toll collection. They impose the tax on different sectors monthly or annually and realize the amount which enriching their fund. The fund is used for purchasing arms and ammunition, military training and paying salary and perks of the militants.
A ruling party leader on condition of anonymity said that despite holding ruling party post, it is impossible for them to live without paying ransom to the armed cadres of the separatist groups. Many Bengali could not but live a captive life and many who have alternative are closing their business establishments. A Forest Department official in CHT (north zone) said apart from the national government here are another parallel government ruling. He said that they are under the rule of three authorities— national government, JSS, and UPDF.
The prevailing situation irritated reserve seat MP Firoza Begum Chinnu who recently asked the Home Ministry to intercept the triple ruling to save people from the thugs. While asked, JSS spokesman Sajib Chakma, also assistant publicity secretary, told the parbattanews that allegation of extortion against JSS is ill-motivated, we do not believe in extortion, rather our party gets fuel from people’s assistance. In the other hand, UPDF spokesman Niron Chakma, publicity and publication secretary, told the parbattanews that the allegation against UPDF is false and fabricated.