Landless Fisher Folks Establish Their Rights on the Government Water Body
Kumirdoho Beel on the bank of Morabangalee River, is located at Saghata upazila under Gaibandha district. This water body covers an area of 15.41 hectares (38.10 acres) and around 450 households of local landless fisher folks have been earning their living by fishing in this beel under the government’s open water body policy of common use. However, in 2010, a locally powerful individual illegally occupied this water body. After a long struggle, the landless fisher folks were able to regain their possession and forced the local authority to fix the boundary for them for the first time in their history in May, 2019.
After the illegal occupation of Kumirdoho Beel (Khash water body), local fisher folks struggled to get back their rights for a decade. In 2010, they formed a cooperative and submitted the application for lease and also submitted Tk 2 Lakhs 86 thousand as the tender money from their group savings. They were given a lease for 3 years from the Upazila Nirbahi officer's (UNO) office.
To the court
However, locally powerful individual Mr Shamim Miah filed a case against the cooperative claiming that the water body was part of their inherited property. Thus, they argued that they were entitled to consume the fishes from that area. The upazila landless committee fought against the case which continued for 2 years. Ultimately, the verdict was given in favor of the landless committee. Even then the possessors were reluctant to accept the verdict and appealed at the High Court. The High Court's verdict also went in favor of the landless. Following the order from the court, Gaibandha's District Commissioner along with other officials fixed the boundary of that beel and handed it over to the landless fisher folks in 2015. Even then, Shamim Miah and his supporters were adamant and continued efforts to reoccupy the water body.
The success of lobby and advocacy
Since the Civic Engagement Alliance inception in 2017, landless members received various capacity building training on lobbying and advocacy. They became more confident and started taking various advocacy initiatives alongside their mobilization activities. Due to their efforts, news reports were published in local (such as Daily Juger Alo, Daily Korotoa, Daily Madhukor) and national newspapers (Daily Janakantha and Daily Jugantor). This drew increased national attention to this wrongdoing. Landless members also submitted a memorandum to the UNO claiming their rights in December, 2018. Members were engaged with journalists and local authorities to keep pressing their demands. The group members also placed a memorandum in front of the Deputy speaker of the National Parliament Fazle Rabbi Miah (Member of Parliament of Gaibandha) in May 2019. He, together with the Saghata Upazila Chairman, arranged a meeting with the upazila landless Committee about this issue. According to the khash water body policy and long negotiation, the Deputy Speaker mediated the issue and directed the Upazila land and water authority to fix the boundary and hand it over to the landless members. Thus, the landless fisherfolk cooperative was legally ensured access of 6 hectares (13 acres) of fixed boundary of Kumirdoho Beel at the end of May, 2019. Finally, 450 landless families are being economically benefited through fishing in this water body.
This story is illustrative of the general process through which the landless organization has combined mobilization and advocacy activities and ensured publicity through engagement with journalists to establish their rights over natural resources. Landless members were also able to successfully establish their rights on Jyotidanga Beel in Saghata and Bamonir Beel in Pirganj by challenging illegal possession by local influential individuals.