Reach consensus on property law: Hasina to Hindu leaders

Hindu leaders have been asked to reach a consensus about Vested Property Act.

Dhaka: Bangladesh`s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday asked Hindu leaders to reach a consensus amongst them about annulling the Vested Property Act so that the government could take a decision.

"No decision could be taken about it as your (Hindu leaders) views widely differed on the proposed law" despite the government`s principled decision to return the Hindu property, a spokesman of the Prime Minister`s office said today quoting her as telling a delegation of the minority Hindu community yesterday.

Hasina, he said, added that the government has put in its best efforts to settle the issue of vested property scraping a controversial law but the "Hindu community leaders are disunited about it".

The cabinet in November last year gave its final nod to a proposed Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act 2009 to return Hindu Property to redress a long-standing issue of the Pakistani era while it was pending in a bill form with a parliamentary standing committee for scrutiny ahead of its enactment.

"The committee is discussing with concerned people so that the new law could be acceptable to all," Hasina told the delegation comprising leaders of Bangladesh Puja Celebration Committee led by Advocate Subrata Chowdhury.

The Hindu property was seized under a law called Enemy Property Act during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, while it was renamed as Vested Property Act after Bangladesh`s attained independence in 1971.

The law was widely criticised as a major violation of the minority rights.

"In 1971, people of all religions fought together to earn the country`s independence. Every person as the citizen of the country has equal right and dignity to live on," Hasina said.

Officials familiar with the process earlier said under the amended law, the government would publish lists of "returnable and non-returnable vested property" within a certain period of time 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 the act 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.

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 act be returned to its original owners, provided that the original owners or their heirs remained resident citizens.

According to a study conducted by 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.


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