Main photo: Bangladesh’s side of the no-man’s land separating the country from India, Lalmonirhat district has been sitting idle for years but just over the edge, sprawling tea plantations are seen in the neighbouring nation. Considering the economic benefits of tea farming in these lands, local farmers have called for more public and private investment in this regard. This photo was taken in the Angorpota area of Patgram upazila in Lalmonirhat recently. Photo: S Dilip Roy
Vast swathes of land on Bangladesh's side of the no-man's-land separating the country from India in Lalmonirhat district are sitting idle while those in the neighbouring nation's half of the region are being used to farm tea.
Those who own lands in the area want to follow suit but have so far been unable to do so due to a lack of financial and government support, according to local farmers.
This is because the height of these lands make it unsuitable for traditional crops that are cheap to cultivate, they said.
But even though these lands are better for growing tea, it is not possible without government support.
So, the land owners could benefit if industrialists with large amounts of capital could help take lease of their lands with help from the government to farm tea along the border.
However, regarding the legality of farming in no-man's-land, Lt Col Fayzur Rahman, director (operation) of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said the term 'no-man's-land' is not a very legitimate concept or phrase.
But there is a border rule that neither country can build any permanent structure within 150 yards on either side of the border. However, both Bangladeshi and Indian authorities have allowed the construction of structures adjacent to land port areas for mutual benefits.
Besides, many residents in bordering areas cultivate various crops on an informal basis in many places.
"But we do not promote this as a border guarding force," Rahman said.
Regarding the BGB's position on planting tea in no-man's land in Lalmonirhat, Rahman said he has not heard of any official details to this end.
Around 15,000 acres of no-man's-land in the district have been kept idle for years as traditional crops cannot grow there, according to officials of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Lalmonirhat.
Ismail Hossain, a farmer based in the Angorpota border area of Patgram upazila, told The Daily Star he has six bighas of land in no-man's-land but they have been left abandoned for years as they are not suitable for traditional crops.
"Besides, tea farming needs huge capital which we lack," he added.
Mobarak Hossain, a farmer of the Dahagram border area in the same upazila, said lands along the Indian side of the border are being successfully used for tea farming.
"This is possible on our lands too as we have the same kind of soil and weather," he said.
"If the government takes proper steps to use these lands like India, it will bring benefits to us," Hossain added.
Quoting his Indian counterparts, a local farmer in the Nabinagar border area of Patgram upazila, said with the help of the Indian government, private companies in the neighbouring country have been farming tea on their side of no-man's-land after leasing them from farmers.
"If our government takes a similar step, we will also lease our lands for tea cultivation in the no-man's-land areas as it will benefit us," he added.
Shamim Ashraf, deputy director of the DAE in Lalmonirhat, said the region has bright prospects with regard to growing crops, particularly tea.
"So, farmers are always advised to use their lands along bordering areas properly," he told The Daily Star.
The soil in this no-man's-land is very suitable for tea farming but this requires huge investment and so, farmers in these areas show little to no interest in it due to their financial shortcomings.
"That's why both public and private entities should come forward to help ensure better use of these lands on Bangladesh's side," Ashraf said.
Arif Khan, project director of Bangladesh Tea Board in Lalmonirhat, said Indian farmers are benefiting by growing tea in their part of no-man's-land for several years now and the same is possible in Bangladesh.
Still though, some farmers along the border area have already started farming tea in their abandoned land along the no-man's land area and the tea board is ready to provide support by distributing saplings, machinery and fertilisers for free to interested farmers.
"So if the industrialists come forward to lease the land from farmers for farming tea, it will bring bright economical opportunities for the country," Khan said.
Cultivation is allowed on no-man's land but the crops cannot be over four feet high, said 15 Border Guard Bangladesh Battalion's Commanding Officer Touhidul Alam.
No structure, be it temporary or permanent, can be built on no-man's land. Tea is being cultivated on such land on the Indian side and Bangladesh Tea Board has already started doing so on this side, he said.