Dhaka, Oct 23 (bdnews24.com)—The High Court has asked the government why the ‘Ga’ and ‘Gha’ clauses of Article-6 of the Vested Property Return Act will not be declared illegal.
The bench of justices A H M Shamsuddin Chowdhury and Jahangir Hossain sought the explanation on Sunday upon a petition filed by former additional secretary Abdul Hai.
The court ordered the land, law and home secretaries, Land Reform Board chairman and Land Appeals Board chairman to respond to the rule within three weeks.
Those two clauses say that if any vested property or enemy property is permanently handed over or leased to anyone, the property would be returned to the original owner.
Barrister Imtiaz Faruk argued in favour of the petition which Hai had filed earlier in the day, while deputy attorney general A B M Altaf Hossain stood for the state.
Later, Imtiaz told bdnews24.com: “The rule also wanted to know why enlisting any property as enemy property will not be declared beyond lawful authority judicial after the passage and implementation of the Enemy Property (Amendment) Ordinance-1976 and all activities done under it and the Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provisions) (Repeal) Act (XLV of 1974).”
The law is aimed at overhauling the much-disputed Vested Property Act, introduced by the then Pakistan government following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, which still empowers the state to deprive a Bangladeshi citizen of their property.
The act has long been criticised in Bangladesh and abroad as a major violation of citizens’ rights, especially minorities, whose property would be seized simply because they went out of the country, even temporarily.
The order was directed against those perceived as enemies, and was used as an instrument for appropriating the land belonging to Hindus accused of supporting India.
After Bangladesh won independence, the new government renamed the act in 1972 to Vested Property Act. Order No-29 of the 1972 act changed the nomenclature to Vested Property Act without altering its content.
However, the act was annulled on Mar 23, 1974.
The previous Awami League government, just before its exit from power in 2001, tabled a new law, the Vested Property Return Act, fixing a 180-day time limit to prepare a list of properly documented vested properties so as to take steps to restore erroneously seized lands.
But the subsequent BNP government towards the end of 2001 amended the bill replacing the 180-day deadline with an ‘indefinite period’. And the list was never completed.
On Oct 14 this year, Suranjit Sengupta, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the law, justice and parliament affairs ministrty, had said that power balance may tilt the other way in the next general election if the act is not amended in the next parliamentary session.
He also urged the Hindus of the country to decide for themselves if the act was not passed in the 11th parliamentary session, scheduled from Oct 20.
The Vested Property (Amendment) Act was scheduled to be tabled in the last session following scrutiny by the standing committee on the land ministry.