Move taken to bring CHT people under income tax net

Shakhawat Hossain

The government has initiated a move to abolish decades-old income tax-free status enjoyed by ethnic minorities and Bengali settlers in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
National Board of Revenue chairman Nazibur Rahman told New Age on Saturday that they were examining the proposal for imposing income tax on affluent people living in the three hill districts – Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari.
The board already sought opinions from the ministry of CHT affairs in this regard, he said, adding that the process was also on to seek opinions from other ministries concerned.
Officials said that the Armed Forces Division sent a letter to the National Board of Revenue on July 24 suggesting that the affluent ethnic minorities and Bengali settlers should be brought under the tax net.
The division wanted the board to prepare the list of eligible taxpayers in three hill districts immediately, the officials said.
The division pointed out that some affluent ethnic minority people engaged in tea and rubber gardens, and businesses like petrol pumps, tourisms and transports had been prospering but paid no income tax for long.
Imposition of income tax on the affluent people in the hill districts would not only increase the revenue but also help in keeping stability in the region, said the armed forces division.
The division alleged that many regional outfits under the financial assistances from the affluent class were destabilising the stability of the region.
The government had no information about the class because of lack of data on their income sources, said the division.
The ethnic minorities had fought nearly a two-decade-long bloody war against Bangladesh Army for a separate homeland for them in the hill districts.
The Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, however, surrendered arms and signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Treaty with the government in 1997.
Ministry of CHT affairs secretary Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura said that the people living in the three hill districts were always exempted from income tax even before the peace treaty.
He said that they were yet to prepare the reply to the revenue board’s proposal to bring the affluent people in the regions under the income tax net.
He noted that the issue was very sensitive.
According to population census 2011, only 15,98,221 people were living in CHT that had 10 per cent of the country’s land. Of the population, 47 per cent are Bengalis, 26 per cent Chakma, 12 per cent Marma and 15 per cent are other small ethnic groups.
Allegations have it that the government has yet to fully implemented the 1997 CHT treaty which often sparks resentment among the ethnic minorities.
International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission in a statement in December 2015 expressed deep concern over the non-implementation of the treaty even in 18 years.
The commission demanded immediate amendment to the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission Act, proper functioning of the CHT Land Disputes Resolution Commission, implementation of the CHT Regional Council Act and laws of the three hill district councils, immediate handover of the responsibility of law enforcement, land and land management, appointment in the local police, forests and environment to the CHT district councils, rehabilitation of India back and internal refugees in their own lands, withdrawal of all military camps, and stoppage of land accusation by the government and encroachment of hills by influential people.

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