Rights activists at a roundtable discussion here on Monday observed that the recently amended Vested Property Repeal (Amendment) Act 2013 is part of a plot by corrupt land officials to prolong the return of ‘vested property’.
The corrupt land officials have already created a great fuss by illegally enlisting a lot of lands as vested property, and the amendment that enables the government to publish gazettes on fresh-enlistment of lands leaves much scope for the continuation of the harassment of landowners by the officials, they claimed.
Speaking at the first two sessions of the roundtable titled, ‘The Vested Property Repeal (Amendment) Act 2013’, they demanded a further amendment to the law to exclude the provision for the fresh enlistment of vested property in both schedules ‘Ka’ and ‘Kha’ of the law. The schedule ‘Ka’ stands for the list of lands of religious minorities grabbed and kept under the custody of the district commissioners, while the schedule ‘Kha’ stands for lands illegally occupied by individuals.
The roundtable was jointly organised by nine rights organisations and citizen groups at CIRDAP Auditorium.
The co-organisers are: Ain o Salish Kendro, Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikya Parishad (BHBCOP), Nijera Kori, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Arpito Sampatti Ain Protirodh Andolon (ASAPA), Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST), Sammilito Samajik Andolon and Human Development Research Centre (HDRC).
Reading out the position paper, ASAPA general secretary Subrata Chowdhury said: “The move to allow the publication of supplementary gazettes to expand the list of properties is no doubt intended to trap general people with their property.”
“The amendment to the law that include provisions for extending the timeline for publishing the supplementary gazettes is an attempt to prolong the crisis of vested property laws in a new form,” he added.
BHBCOP presidium member Kazal Debnath said the prolongation of the status quo regarding the vested property means money for a lot of corrupt officials.
“We’ve reports that claimants of the vested property are not getting any documents required to file the complaint without paying bribes to the officials. At least 16-17 documents are required to lodge the complaint under the law. And the land officials are demanding Tk 5,000-10,000 as bribe at each and every point where the documents could be sought for,” he said.
Janata Bank chairman Abul Barkat, who is also the author of several publications on land rights, noted that the amendment has transformed the law into an instrument of grabbing the property of the religious minorities.
The notorious ordinance of 1965 started the vesting of property of religious minorities who were temporarily forced out of the country, but the corrupt land officials reaped benefits by prolonging the vesting, going against a Supreme Court verdict.
The Supreme Court on March 23, 1974 gave a verdict declaring the Enemy Property Order 1965 as a dead law. The verdict also declared any further vesting of properties as illegal.
Barkat said: “The amendment is made to the advantage of the land officials who have been involved in vesting of lands for a long period. It allows them 300 more days for the enlistment of the vested properties. On the other hand, the plaintiffs are only facilitated with a 30-day extension to raise the complaint.”
He also stressed political commitment for ensuring the return of the vested property.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said the grand alliance government is politically committed to ensuring the return of the vested property to the religious minorities. “I’ll place the recommendations for another amendment to the law to the Cabinet,” he added.
The first two sessions of the roundtable discussion was chaired by ALRD chairperson Khushi Kabir and Sammilito Samajik Andolon president Ajoy Roy respectively.