At least 270 Khasia families are at risk of losing everything as a local Awami League leader wants to set up a tea garden on a 600.7-acre Khasia land.
Moulvibazar Awami League Assistant Secretary Md Kamal Hossain has taken the initiative to establish a tea garden by using land from four villages of the district’s Sreemangal upazila: Nirala, Nahar-1, Nahar-2 and Chalitachhara.
According to multiple sources, after receiving permission from the Ministry of Land, Kamal sent his papers to the Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar Tofayel Islam for approval. However, the local MP has sent a delivery order (DO) letter to the DC office to stop the approval and return the land to the ethnic minority group.
The residents of the areas said Abdul Kuddus, former assistant commissioner (land) of the area, sent his report to the Ministry of Land without any proper inquiry or investigation.
The Ministry of Land approved Mahi Tea Estate’s application of taking the land on lease for a tea garden based on the improper report, they added.
However, in 1989 and 1990, the Ministry of Land and Moulvibazar deputy commissioner’s office allocated most of the land to 29 Khasia families. The order has not been implemented yet.
According to locals, Md Kamal Hossain, owner of Mahi Tea Estate, is not only the district AL assistant secretary but also the president of Moulvibazar Chamber of Commerce and Industries. He also accompanied Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during some of her foreign trips. This is why he has an influence on local people and administration.
High school student Sumi Khasia, a resident of the area, said: “We are afraid that they will evict us soon. We mostly cultivate betel leaf and have no other income source. What will happen to us if we get evicted from here?”
Another resident Dawrin Khasia said: “We have been living here for generations. What will we eat if they evict us? Where will we go? We do not even have any other place to go.”
The assistant head of Nirala area Diganta Pasuyet Khasia said: “A group of influential people wanted to evict us from the land and establish tea garden here for a while. But we survive by cultivating betel leaf, betel nuts and bananas here. We request our prime minister to stop giving the land to Mahi Tea Estate in the name of leasing.”
Besides, former chief whip of Parliament and also local MP Abdus Shahid sent a DO letter to Moulvibazar deputy commissioner’s office to award the land to the Khasias.
The letter read: “The 270 Khasia families have been living on the land for generations. The government has ensured education, medical facilities and other basic needs for them. And the land is not even suitable for tea cultivation either.”
He also said that none of the local public representatives knows about the application of Mahi Tea Estate that asked for the 600-acre land. He urged the authorities to give the land to the Khasias.
Some Khasias also submitted a letter to the deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar district to stop giving the land to Mahi Tea Estate on a lease.
The Managing Director of Mahi Tea Estate Md Kamal Hossain said: “As far as I know the land is not a Khasia property. The allegation of using influence on administration is not true. There are 1800 acres of land in total. Nahar tea garden took 600 acres and Khasias live on 600 acres. We wanted the rest of the land on lease.”
Ashequl Haque, the assistant commissioner (land) who submitted the report on Khasia land to Ministry of Land, said: “I had to fight for submitting the report. Khasias grabbed the tea garden land. I do not know if the land is in the Khasia’s possession. I submitted the report on what I witnessed on the ground.”
Moulvibazar Deputy Commissioner Tofayel Islam said: “Ministry of Land approved to lease out the land to Mahi Tea Estate. But the Khasias have also lodged a case, following which the court asked us to show cause.”
When asked if there was proper investigation before submitting the report, the Moulvibazar DC said: “The ministry approved it. I do not know any detail about it. Currently – showing cause to court, rules of procedure for leasing and investigating the allegation from Khasias – three things are under process.”