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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Food ration in hills: Most beneficiaries of public money Bangalee settlers

Source: The Daily Star News

The government has to spend over Tk 100 crore a year to provide food rations to 40,335 families, mostly Bangalee settlers living in 81 cluster villages in Chittagong Hill Tracts.

And it has been shouldering the expenditure for years without solving the problems in CHT region.

A total 26,220 Bangla-speaking families living in the 81 cluster villages in Khagrachhari and Rangamati districts have been getting the ration since October 1988. The remaining 14,115 families are repatriated indigenous refugees and members of the Shanti Bahini who have been given the ration since 1998.

Many said most Bangalee families are quite well-off for getting the food ration of 85kg rice a month each, but the government has never stopped providing it.

In 1986, when massive violence erupted in the region HM Ershad's government built the cluster villages for Bangalee settlers near army camps to ensure their safety and security and later decided to provide them with food ration initially for three years.

On the issue, some Bangalees living in Baghaichhari upazila of Rangamati said the government has not increased the number of recipients for years.

"Population has increased in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Now they should review and increase the number of ration recipients," said Abdul Kalam, who moved to Baghachhari from Dighinala, Khagrachhari, three years ago.

Indigenous recipients comprise those who returned from the Indian state of Tripura after the CHT Peace Accord was inked in 1997 and brought an end to the decades of bush war in the hilly terrain.

Over 65,000 members of the 12,170 ethnic families have been receiving 5kg rice each for adults and 2.5kg for minors every week since January 1998.

As per the peace accord, the repatriated indigenous people were supposed to get ration for only one year by when they were supposed to get back their land and be rehabilitated by the government.

However, the government is yet to rehabilitate many of them and ensure their safety and security.

"We want safety and security of our lives and we want to get back our land," said Santashito Chakma Bakul, general secretary of the Repatriated Jummah Refugee.

"Since our return to the country in 1998 Bangalee settlers have attacked us 11 times," he said, adding, "If the government can ensure these, we will not need the rations anymore."

A total 1,945 members of Shanti Bahini have the ration cards and have been receiving 100kg rice a month each as per the CHT Peace Accord.

In 2003, the BNP-led four-party alliance government stopped food rationing only for the indigenous people for six months. It, however, resumed it amid protests.

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