The residents of Saint Martin's island located in the southernmost part of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal are deprived of basic citizen rights due to the negligence of the government in providing them with meaningful access to basic necessities, they allege.
Times are hard in the unique coral island, the only one of its kind in the country. The locals said the Covid-19 pandemic hit them with a 'double whammy' -as prices increased, at the same time incomes suffered even more than the rest of the country, as the main income earner, tourism, completely shut down.
While that should have merited special consideration from the government, the inhabitants alleged most of them did not get proper assistance from the government's departments in the lockdown period during the pandemic. So they had to go through difficult times with their families. The angry residents also alleged they don't get citizens' basic rights there due to the negligence of the government.
They referred to Article 15 of the constitution of Bangladesh that requires the state to ensure people's access to basic necessities including food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care as one of the fundamental principles of state policy. They can even take the government to court for its enforcement.
Mohammad Alom, resident of the island said they were going through a difficult time in various reasons including the Covid-19 pandemic. "We have to survive amid risks all time here. The pandemic hit us hard more. Our income is very low. But, we have to purchase all daily essentials including rice, oil, lentil and vegetables at high prices,' he added.
He also said they don't get proper medical care not having any doctor in the Island. So they have to suffer more and go to district hospital.
"We don't get citizen's basic rights properly here due to negligence of the government. We are under Teknaf Upazila of Cox's bazaar district. But, the administration is reluctant to help us. I could learn in childhood not having education institution here then. Now our children also can't study properly due to lack of a good teacher and education institution here,' Alom added.
Abdul Aziz, a fisherman of Saint Martin who has been catching fishes for over 20 years, said they can't catch fishes most of the time in a year. So their income is also low.
"We are at risk all the time when we go to catch fish in the deep sea of the Bay of Bengal. We don't go to catch fishes in the government's holidays of 87 days including 65 days in the rainy season and 22 days during a comprehensive programme to make 'Mother Hilsa Conservation. Besides, we can't go out in bad weather in the sea and don't catch fish every Friday. So we have to take rest most of the time in a year,' he added.
Abdul Aziz said they don't get proper support from the government when they face accidents in the sea. "We don't get mobile network after crossing the 'Chhera Dwip', an uninhabited island and extension of Saint Martin. So we have to fall in severe problems when the engine is lost in the deep sea. Then, we don't get a mobile network to inform our relatives,' he shared.
He urged the government to set up a strong tower for better mobile network service in the island.
Contacted, Union Parishad (UP) member of the Island Habibur Rahman Khan told UNB the citizen's basic rights specially education and medical care must be ensured in a short time for the sake of the residents.
"We have noticed the district administration many times about the citizen rights but they don't take any initiative to ensure this. The government should give emphasis to the Island as we have a contribution to the national economy as well,' he added.
He said there are two primary schools, one high school that will graduate to college level but no good teacher here. How will the institution be continued?
He added the government set up a hospital 10 years ago here but there is no doctor or any equipment. How we will get medical care? "Around 10,000 people live in the island. Of them, there are 600 listed fishermen out of 1454 fishermen. We can't assist them properly in the pandemic period due to lack of enough relief,' he added.
Habibur Rahman said the government should give emphasis on strong connectivity among Saint Martin, Teknaf, Cox's bazar and Chattogram to encourage tourists.
"No government's ship comes to Saint Martin. But, from November 12, three private ships came to the island loading tourists. One ship from Cox's bazaar and another two come here from Teknaf. Some people also come here by boat," he also said.
He said now around 1500 tourists visit daily in the most popular tourist destination of the country. It was shut from March 19 following the pandemic. The main season of the island for tourists is from November to January month.
The UP member also urged the government's authority concerned to set up a waste management plant to save the Island's environment as soon as possible.
Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Nasima Begum did not any comment about the basic rights for lack of research.