Locals and authorities yet to reach an understanding as five-star Marriott hotel’s main construction work starts
The construction work of a five-star hotel, named “Marriott Hotel and Amusement Park,” in Chandra Pahar — previously known as the Naitong hung (hill) — of Bandarban’s Chimbuk area is continuing amid protests by the local Mro community.
Near Nilgiri, the 24th Division and the 69th Brigade of Bangladesh Army, Army Welfare Trust and R&R Holdings Limited are jointly implementing the project — which will be a part of the US-based hospitality company Marriott International.
On November 27, the project area was cordoned off with warning tapes and flags hoisted in gaps. According to those flags, the “Marriott Hotels and Resorts” is “a joint venture of Bangladesh Army and R&R Holdings Limited.”
“The project is being implemented on a 20-acre land, under a 35-year lease from the Army Welfare Trust and a profit sharing agreement between the trust and R&R Holdings Limited near the Nilgiri tourist spot,” said Farid Uddin Khan, chief project coordinator from R&R Holdings, which is a concern of Sikder Group and also Marriott’s vendor in Bangladesh.
“I have no idea why some prominent people in our country are claiming that the project is being implemented over 800-1,000 acres of land. This is totally wrong. We are only using 20-acres and Bandarban Hill District Council Chairman Kyaw Shwe Hla has leased that to us,” he added.
The project area, alongside the Chimbuk-Thanchi road, is located 47km from Bandarban district town and 3km from Nilgiri. Chandra Pahar is about 2,400 feet above plain land and the hotel will have a 360-degree view of its surroundings.
What does the Mros say?
Arjun Mru, member of ward 6 in Kalinga Union Parishad of Lama upazila, said: “The locals will be affected if the proposed five-star hotel is built. The people of Kapru Para and Dhola Para area, located 1.5km and 2km from the tourist spot, are dependent on jhum cultivation.”
“If the hotel is built, we will not be able to set fire around that place which is necessary for jhum cultivation (also known as also known as shifting cultivation),” he added.
Bangladesh Mro Student Association General Secretary Kratpung Mro also said: “The 600 Mro families of Dhola Para, Kolai Para, Era Para and Kapru Para will be directly affected as they will not be able to do jhum cultivation near the Naitong hung area.”
“We are pushing the authorities to meet our four demands, including cancellation of the hotel project in the Chimbuk range and consulting with local leaders before signing the lease contract of any land,” he said.
Banners protesting the project could be seen in almost every small para and village from Bandarban town to Nilgiri.
However, District Council Chairman Kyaw Shwe Hla at a press conference on November 22 said: “There has been no Mro settlement in the Naitong Hill of Chimbuk area ever. It is not entirely true that if a tourist spot is built, it will directly affect four and indirectly affect eighty Mro villages.”
“The land was leased to the army on 18 conditions, which included not cutting down hills, not taking any action that would harm the environment, and giving priority to locals during recruitment,” he added.
Arjun Mru, however, managed to find a silver lining, saying they will be able to sell their products to tourists at a higher price if the hotel becomes operational.
Laxkan Mro, who live in Kapru Para, also said locals would also be happy if the authorities recruited them in various capacities under this project.
What does the authorities say?
A senior army officer of the Bandarban region told this correspondent that as part of boosting the country’s tourism, Army Welfare Association have taken lease of 20 acres of land for 50 years from the Bandarban Hill District Council with a vision of heightening infrastructural development in the hills.
The construction work was then handed over to the R&R Holdings Limited in line with the law, he added.
The agreement with the Hill District Council was made on December 27, 2015. They then started the project in phases. Now when the final work is underway, some vested quarters are protesting the project while raising false allegations, said the officer.
R&R Holdings’ Farid Uddin stressed: “We are not evacuating any Mro people from the area. We have already recruited 150 of them for various works. They will be benefited too even after the project is completed.”
“It took two years for us to bring electricity to this hilly area for this project, which was not an easy task. These vested quarters are raising voice just when we started working at full speed. That’s unfair,” he added.
Responding to a different question, Farid said Marriot will manage the hotel and the amusement park. “The profit will be shared between the three partners. The district council will also make a profit of 8%.”
Project site engineer Shahid Uz Zaman told Dhaka Tribune that they started the hotel’s main construction work in October.
“When implemented, the project will be one of the best tourist attractions in Bangladesh. Besides the seven-storied main hotel building, there will be four five-storied buildings, 23 separate villas or cottages, two presidential suits, and two helipads over the two staff quarters,” he said.
Shahid added: “The project also includes a modern cable car system to facilitate tourists' travel from Marriott to Nilgiri so that tourists can roam from one hill to another without hassle.
“Apart from this, there will also be various kinds of amusement facilities, including rides, swimming pools and artificial lakes.”
R&R Holdings Limited Chairman Rick Haque Sikder during a visit in September expressed hope that the project could be open to tourists by September 2021.