B`desh approves law to return 1965 war Hindu property

Last Updated: Monday, November 2, 2009 - 23:36

Dhaka: The Bangladesh cabinet on Monday
approved a proposed law to return Hindu property which were
confiscated during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, when the country was
eastern wing of Pakistan, ending a major violation of the
rights of minorities in the country.

"The cabinet meeting (chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina) approved the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act
2009 . . . it (proposed law) will now be placed to parliament
for enactment," prime minister`s deputy press secretary
Mahbubul Haque Shakil told reporters.

The proposed law is meant to redress the long-disputed
law of the Pakistani era, which was widely criticised as a
major violation of the minority rights. During the Pakistan
period, the law was called as Enemy Property Act.

The then Pakistani regime enacted the law to
confiscate the property of the Hindu families who fled the
country when the India-Pakistan war broke out in 1965 while
the post independent Bangladesh government renamed it as the
Vested Property Act 1974.

The final cabinet approval for the law came after
some amendments were made to it in line with the cabinet
directives two months ago.

Officials familiar with the process said under the
amended proposal, the government would publish lists of
"returnable and non-returnable vested property" within a
certain period of times while the claimants could also seek
review about "non returnable" property.

Under the law, government committees at district
and upazila or sub-district levels would settle disputes
regarding the disputed property.

Awami League had enacted the law to return the
minority property at the fag end of its previous 1996-2001
tenure setting a two-year implementation deadline but the
subsequent Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) sat on it
exposing it to a natural death.

The past military-backed interim government, however,
enacted another ordinance under emergency rules with identical
objectives of settling the long-standing issue but it too
faced a natural death as the incumbent Awami League decided
not to ratify it in parliament.

A parliamentary watchdog on March 11 this year asked
the land ministry to draft the new Vested Property Return Act
restoring the six-month deadline for local authorities to
compile a list of land seized under the law.

Many Hindus were unable to recover landholdings lost
because of discrimination under the now-defunct Vested
Property Act, an East Pakistan-era law that allowed the
Government to expropriate "enemy", in practice Hindu, lands.

The then Pakistani government had seized
approximately 2.5 million acres of land from Hindus, affecting
nearly 10 million Hindus in the country until parliament
scrapped it in April 2001.

The 2001 law stipulated that land that was seized
under the be returned to its original owners, provided that
the original owners or their heirs remained resident citizens.

According to a study conducted by a Dhaka University
professor several years ago nearly 200,000 Hindu families lost
approximately 40,667 acres of land since 2001 until the
annulment of the Vested Property Act, considered a "black
law".

After a protracted campaign by the rights groups and
different forums of the Hindu community the then Awami League
government had scraped the law enacting the Vested Property
Return Act.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, November 2, 2009 - 23:36

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