Bangladesh eco-parks are bad news for minority peoples

Friday, 13 April 2001
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The minority peoples of Bangladesh have been systematically evicted from their land or displaced by settlers. They face state repression, social discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. The latest government strategy to throw ethnic minorities off their traditional lands is the creation of ten "eco-parks" around the country.

The minority peoples of Bangladesh have been systematically evicted from their land or displaced by settlers. They face state repression, social discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. The latest government strategy to throw ethnic minorities off their traditional lands is the creation of ten "eco-parks" around the country. All will be built in areas inhabited by non-Bengali "tribes".

On 14 April the Minister for Forests and Environment laid the foundation stones of parks in Madhabkunda and Muraichhari, which will cost 11 crore taka, or approximately $US2million, and take three years to complete.

The ruling Awami League has released few details of the projects. It's a safe bet that the lucky winners of the tender system, if not already connected to the party, will from now on be its ardent supporters.

Even the mainstream media has been critical, pointing out that despite government assurances no discussions were held with the Khasia and Garo people whose livelihoods depend on the land.

Newspapers report that the creation of the first two parks in the Moulvibazar district will involve the clearance of 1500 acres of forested land, with tree felling, road building and the levelling of hills. While claiming the twin aims of the project are economic development and "bio-diversity conservation", it's not difficult to see which takes precedence.

The real objectives of the misnamed "eco-parks" are to evict minority ethnic groups - which goes hand in hand with environmental destruction - and to transfer public funds into the coffers of the construction industry. In the future we can expect the privatisation of land and the bargain price sale of tourism infrastructure to the private sector.

The constitution of the young nation of Bangladesh proclaims support for the struggles of oppressed nations everywhere. Yet the ethnic minorities within the borders of Bangladesh are not officially recognised by the state. All these groups are also non-Muslim: most are Buddhist, some Christian and other religions ö spelling further alienation in a country which recognises only Islam as the state religion.

Successive governments have carried out deliberate measures of oppression of ethnic minorities, including settlement of Bangladeshis backed up by periodic military offensives in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the area inhabited by the largest number of tribal groups. The agreement negotiated there under the present government is not a just peace and is beginning to show signs of coming apart at the seams.

The latest policy of establishing "eco-parks" must be condemned. It flies in the face of the most basic tenets of human rights, ecological protection and sustainable development. The already marginalised inhabitants of the land earmarked for "development" and "preservation" will bear the cost of this pointless exercise. Their lives and livelihood are considered expendable.

Putting "bio-diversity preservation" before humans is simply the government's latest "green" catch phrase. The plan is to destroy most of the natural environment to justify the "preservation" project. The forests of Bangladesh, which have for centuries been the traditional lands of non-Bengali peoples, are steadily being depleted for profit. This is being done behind the backs of the whole population in an undemocratic manner. The fight to save the forests is also the fight for the rights of the minority inhabitants.

- End the war against national minorities, no support for military offensives!
- State recognition and land rights for minority peoples!
- Hands off tribal areas, no more evictions!
- For basic infrastructure development under the direct control of ethnic minorities!
- For the victory of internationalism over nationalism in the Indian Subcontinent

April 13, 2001,
Democratic Workers Party, (Gonotantrik Mazdur Party).
GPO BOX-2473,
DHAKA-1000,
Bangladesh