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'Santals' claims on sugar mill land valid'

  • Published at 01:49 pm December 16th, 2016
'Santals' claims on sugar mill land valid'
A classified report filed by a committee, formed to look into the attack on Santals, also uncovered indifferences of the sugar mill manager and industries secretary to the Santals' demand. On November 6 and 7, three Santal men died and many more injured during a clash that ensued as the Gobindaganj upazila administration attempted to evict around 600 Santals from their homes in the Sahebganj-Bagda Sugar Mills area. The drive was carried out by police and Rapid Action Battalion and assisted by locals, allegedly loyal to the local lawmaker. A footage, exclusively obtained by the Dhaka Tribune, showed that some policemen were even involved in torching Santal homes.
Also Read- IGP: Probe will reveal if police torched Santal houses
Gaibandha Deputy Commissioner (DC) Md Abdus Samad filed an investigation report to the Cabinet on November 28, which elaborates the Santals' rights on the land acquired for the sugar mill. In 1962, the then Pakistan government acquired around 745 hectares (1,842.3 acres) of land from Santals and locals for setting up the Rangpur Sugar Mills. One of the significant conditions of the acquisition was that only sugar cane could be cultivated on the land and if not, the rightful owners – Santals and locals – would be eligible to claim the land back. Another classified report by Gaibandha additional DC (ADC) from June 21 last year, attached with the November 28 report, noted that rice, tobacco and vegetables were being grown on the land. [YUMPU epaper_id="82" width="800" height="600"] Quoting the investigation officer, the ADC report said the investigators had found the Santals and locals' complaint to be valid after listening to the sugar mill authorities and the complainants, and scrutinising documents both the parties submitted. Santals first demanded their ancestral land back in 2004 after the government declared the Rangpur Sugar Mills lay-off under privatisation policy. The mill went back in production in 2006 but is yet to make profits. To make up the losses, around 324 hectares (800 acres) were leased out to politically influential people with condition that sugar cane must be cultivated on 80% of the land. The lessees violated the contract, according to the June 21, 2015 report, leading to simmering discontent among the Santals and locals – the rightful owners of the land. [YUMPU epaper_id="83" width="800" height="600"] Amid continuous protests, the mill authorities scrapped the lease system last year. The Santals then wrote to the deputy commissioner and the mill authorities so that they can get back their lands. The district administration then asked the mill authorities to explain why other crops were being cultivated on the land and why it had been leased out, the report said.
Also Read- ‘Attack on Santals was planned’
In response, the mill's managing director (MD) informed the ADC that of the total acquired land, only around 608 hectares (1,502 acres) were arable and that they were cultivating sugar cane on one half and other crops on the rest in rotation. The MD also told the ADC that the Sugar and Food Industries Corporation, the authorities that supervise sugar mills activities around the country, made the decision of leasing out on August 25, 2015. [YUMPU epaper_id="85" width="800" height="600"] The MD also said that they had plans to grow sugar cane on around 202-280 hectares (500-700 acres) of lands in September that year. The message was conveyed to the Santal representatives, according to the report. As sugar cane was not grown yet after the manager's commitment, Santals started building makeshift houses on the land from July 1 this year, stated the November 28 report. A police report on July 2 said speakers at a June 30 protest rally at Gobindaganj urged the Santals to reclaim their ancestral land since sugar cane was not being cultivated. The report mentioned that the industries secretary had been formally informed on June 24 about the Santals' demand and specifically told that the situation was going downhill. [YUMPU epaper_id="86" width="800" height="600"] A May 5 letter by the district magistrate, which warned that there was a huge possibility of loss of lives and property if a peaceful solution was not reached, was also attached with the police report sent to the secretary.
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