History of Rangamati and forest management

--Abu Hanif Patwary Conservator of Forest Rangamati Circle Department of Forest

Historically it is known that the founder of the royal dynasty of Hill Tripura, the King Yuja Rupa (Bira Raja) had established its first capital in Rangamati in 590 AD.

Mughal Rule

Until 1666, the Arakanese occupied the region. In 1666, taking the conflicts between the Arakan Rulers and the Portuguese into advantage, Alamgir Khan, the then Governor of Bengal who was under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered this region and as per the order of religious-minded Emperor renamed the area ‘Chatgaon’ to ‘Islamabad’. Becoming the King, Jalar Khan in 1715 agreed to pay 11 maunds ‘Carpus variety of cotton’ to Mughal administrator of Chittagong to establish trade relations between the inhabitants of plains and hills. However, the Mughal administrators later wanted to collect taxes in the name of ‘Carpus Mohal’ (Cotton Corridor), as hills were belong to their subject areas and the then Chakma King had refused to pay such and in 1724 went to Arakan. However, from 1724 to 1737, Fateh Khan had paid 11 maunds of Carpus variety of cotton as tax to Mughal Administrator. In 1737, with the condition to pay carpus cotton as tax, Shermusta Khan became the landlord of Kodala, Shilok and Rangunia region. According to Queen Kalindi, after the King Sheramusta Khan, Sukdeb Roy, Sher Doulat Khan, Janbox Khan, Aryyaputra Dharambaksa Khan, and later Queen Kalindi herself served the Chakma dynasty. In 1758, King Shermusta Khan died. Chittagong district and Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) were under the safe possession of Mughal Emperor until 1760, before being ceded to East India Company by the then semi-independent new Nawab Mir Kashim Khan.

Arrival of Arakan Tribes

Some amazing historical information came to know from a letter written by the King of Arakan to the Chief of Chittagong on 24 June 1787 AD. In that letter, the King had mentioned about some tribes that fled away from Arakan and took refuge in the hills of Chittagong who were involved in torturing the inhabitants of both the countries. Names of at least four tribes that are currently living in the hilly areas were mentioned in that letter and these are Mog, Chakma, Maring or Murang and Lice (Pangkua or Banayogi). The King of Arakan had then expected the deportation of all those miscreants so as to”remain our friendship clean and to safe the roads for tourists and businessmen”.

Tribes are not British only the taxpayers

In 1829, the Commissioner Mr. Halhed recognized that the hill tribes are not belong to British citizens/subjects rather tax payers only. He admitted that British rule do not have the rights to interfere in their internal systems/matters. That is why, for the sake of strong and stable government, the tribal Chiefs step-by-step came under British influence. At the end of 18th Century, all the leading Chiefs had started paying specific taxes to the Chittagong Collectorate otherwise paying annual gift to avail the free trade facilities between plain and hill people. Initially, that was not confined rather the amount had increased or decreased. But, gradually, special and confined rates were imposed. At last, that had not remained as tax rather scheduled as revenue to deliver the government. Even though, the government had not intervened directly in the hill region’s economy. It is noteworthy that, among the Chakma kings, Dharambakhs Khan was the last who had ‘Khan’ title. After his death in 1832, Queen Kalindi took over the responsibility of the crown.

Formation of CHT District

CHT district was created on 20 June, 1860. Before that from 1715 to 1860, the area was known as ‘Carpus Mohal’ (Cotton Corridor). The hill inhabiting tribes of the country that constituted the greater CHT was continuously the target of attack by the oppressive tribes from the Far East. As a consequence of attack on a fort located on the bank of Kaptai Canal, in 1859 the then Divisional Commissioner recommended to separate the hill regions from Chittagong district regulations and to appoint a Superintendent for the hill tribes. Both the recommendations were been adopted in 1860 by Act XXII and came into effect since 1 August of the same year. CHT had been separated from the regulations of Chittagong district, and an officer been assigned as Superintendent for the hill tribes as well. Thus, hill tribes and forests had been separated from the jurisdictions of regulated district’s civil, criminal and revenue courts, and officials. The primary purpose of assigning a Hill Superintendent was to prevent tyrant tribes and protect innocent tribes under his jurisdiction. Since then, the hilly regions under his jurisdiction is called CHT (until then it was regarded as carpus mohal e.g. cotton corridor) and CHT district’s headquarter was established at Chandraghona. For the next few years, special attention was given to restore peace in the border. Chakma Queen Kalindi was in charge of the king at that time. In 1867, the designation of Officer in Charge of the CHT district was changed to Deputy Commissioner from Superintendent and he was given the full power to control hill region’s revenue and judicial systems. At the same time, the district was properly divided into sub-divisions and necessary appropriate subordinate officers were assigned as well. In the month of November 1868, district’s headquarter had been transferred to Rangamati from Chandraghona.

Amendment of the Regulation

The Regulation of 1900 had been amended by CHT (Amendment) Regulation 1920 and the position of Superintendent changed to Deputy Commissioner and that of Assistant Superintendent to Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector. As per dual administrative system, CHT was treated as ‘Excluded Area’ and with the support of executive council, it was placed under the sole responsibility of the Governor. After the death of King Bhubon Mohan Roy in 1936, his son Nalinaksha Roy became the King. He was the first graduate of the Chakma kings.

Pakistan Rule

In August 1947, the CHT district came under the rule of Pakistan from the British and it was brought under many changes and developments. In 1954, after the death of King Nalinaksha Roy, his son Tridiv Roy became the king. He was a member of the provincial assembly in Pakistan. During the War of Independence, he supported Pakistan and stayed there. In 1960, when the dam on the river Karnaphully was built, the geographic and socio-economic conditions in the hilly Rangamati changed drastically as a result. However, due to the Kaptai dam, a resident of 100,000 hilly inhabitants affected badly and that was one of the important causes of their dissatisfaction.

Evolution of Bangladesh

In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence. From 1971 to 1978, Samit Roy, the younger brother of King Tridib Roy led the dynasty as the crown prince Devasish Roy was infant then. Chakma Raja Devasish Roy assumed his responsibility as king in 1978. The old sub-divisions were restructured on 10 September 1979 to establish new sub-division i.e. Khagrachari, Lama and Kaptai. Afterwards, in April 1981, new district Bandarban emerged combining Bandarban and Lama Sub-divisions. Later, during the rule of President Ershad, New district Khagrachari emerged combining Khagrachari and Ramgar Sub-divisions as part of the administrative reforms throughout the country. Later, on 25 February 1985, different naming and boundary for Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban Hill District is determined. Currently, greater part of Rangamati district and some parts of Khagrachari district comprise Chakma Circle territory. Greater part of Khagrachari district comprises Mong Circle territory while greater part of Bandarban district and smaller part of Rangamati district comprise Bohmong Circle territory. Therefore, in Rangamati district 2 Circles (Bohmong and Chakma) territory falls where total mouza is 159 out of which 24 belongs to Bohmong and the total Headman is 155 (as Chakma Circle Chief is the Headman of 4 Mouzas). Total Karbari is 997.

In 1989, during the rule of General Ershad, Local Government Council is formed providing a lot of power in the territory of the three hill districts. The position of the Local Government’s Chairman is made equivalent to the rank of a Deputy Minister. In 1997, in the circumstance of Peace Accord, the name of the Local Government Council is renamed as Hill District Council with the provision of more powers. After the Accord, a Regional Council is also formed combining the three Hill Districts and its Chairman is equivalent to rank of a State Minister. Headquarter of the Regional Council is located in Rangamati town. Therefore, a complex and specialized administrative structure is effective in Rangamati Hill District.

Forest Resources of Rangamati

CHT covers approximately 10% of the total land area of Bangladesh. It is situated in the southeast corner of the country with a total area of 13,295 sq. K.M.  At the middle of the nineteenth century, remote and rich forests of the CHT were first brought into revenue management under the control of Chittagong Forest Division. Chittagong Divisional Commissioner then acted as ex-officio of the Conservator of Forests and an Assistant Conservator of Forests was in charge of the region since 1869. On 1 February 1871, in accordance with the provisions under section VII of the Act of 1865, Government through gazette notification declared 5,670.0 sq. miles areas out of 6,882.0 sq. miles CHT as government forests. In the same year, importing seeds from Myanmar (Burma), the first teak plantation was raised at Sita Pahar area of Kaptai. In 1909, Chittagong Forest Division has been divided and CHT Forest Division was newly created, and a separate Divisional Forest Officer was also assigned. Forest management and other activities of CHT Forest Division and Chittagong Forest Division were under the control of Eastern Circle until 1983 whose headquarter were at Chittagong.

 

After the reorganization in 1920, for the management of forests, a British Forester named J.M. Kauyan joined as Divisional Forest Officer in the CHT Forest Division. He was the first to develop a comprehensive working plan (1922-’23 to 1942-’43). With that, CHT forest management continued. After that, Mr. R. Banerjee, Divisional Forest Officer developed the 10-year term Working Scheme (1943-’44 to 1952-’53) in 1941 and according to that management continued. Afterwards, Deputy Conservator of Forest Mr. Mahbub Uddin developed working plan for the period 1969-’70 to 1988-’89 also prioritized similar objectives. In 1990, according to the Government’s decision, the logging from the forests stopped. Since then, there is no more working plan is in place. Although till 1990, the working plans were functional as usual, for more than last twenty years due to prevailing abnormal situations, activities under working plans has been collapsed in most of the forests in these areas. The speed in almost all the development activities in forestry is ceased and the forest protection system also weakened. With this unexpected standstill in forest management in CHT, more than two decades already passed. Although the legal/official extraction of timber in government forests is closed, under different project several plantation activities were taken in the Reserved Forests and Un-classed State Forests. However, due to political situation in the CHT and non-availability of transferred lands, activities to plantation forestry development could not gain speed. Meanwhile, in December 1997, the flag of peace has flown in the sky of CHT. After the long expected Peace Accord, Forest Department undertook different initiatives to bring the momentum in plantation and forest management. Accordingly, it placed several long and short-term projects for the consideration of government. However, the proposed development projects could not been implemented due to non-resolution of land related conflicts. Our heritage this CHT is considered as the heart of the forests of Bangladesh. Due to continued torture and the absence of long-term necessary care, these highly diverse and rich forests are decaying.

Significant Forest Plant and Wildlife Species

The Scientists know forests of CHT as Tropical Mixed Evergreen Forests. Notable tree species in these forests are Garjan, Civit, Chundul, Jam, Champa, Chapalish, Narikeli, Tali, Bhadi, Jarul, Kadam, Pitali, Shimul, Bandorhola, Koroi, Chikrassi, Toon, Amra, Amlaki  etc. Muli, Mitinga, Dolu, Ora, Kalichari, Kali/Bajali bamboo species also found. Approximately 75 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 7 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles are found in these forests.

However, because of unplanned Jhum cultivation in forestlands and indiscriminate deforestation, wildlife habitat destroyed gradually and abundance reduced. There were heavy hunting and poaching of wildlife in the past. Due to that, mammals in the forests particularly Elephant, Deer, Wild Boar, Goyal, Monkey, Wild Goat and Gey Peacock Pheasant, Hollock Gibbon, Hornbill, Bear has reduced sharply. Moreover, due to lack of awareness, still hunters and poachers are hunting and poaching illegally. That is why, mass awareness creation is necessary to encourage wildlife conservation.

Conclusion

Forest Department is the people’s institution. It is the age-old tradition of Forest Department to involve forest dwellers and local indigenous people in its development activities. Through creating new plantations in the region, establishing eco-park and game reserve to conserve wildlife and establishing effective forest management, socio-economic development of the people of this region and the country could be achieved. In this context, with comprehensive and sincere cooperation of the relevant stakeholders and successful implementation of Forest Department’s activities, it would be possible to recover the shrinking forest resources of the CHT.