Vested Property Act (Bangladesh)
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The Vested Property Act is a controversial law in Bangladesh that allows the Government to confiscate property from individuals it deems as an enemy of the state. Before the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, it was known as the Enemy Property Act and is still referred to as such in common parlance. The act is criticized as a tool for appropriating the lands of the minority population.
This law is the culmination of several successive discriminatory laws against non-Muslims passed while Bangladesh was part of Pakistan.
Chronologically, they are:
The East Bengal (Emergency) Requisition of Property Act (XIII of 1948)
The East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Property) Act (VIII of 1949)
The East Bengal Evacuees (Restoration of Possession) Act (XXII of 1951)
The East Bengal Evacuees (Administration of Immovable Property) Act (XXIV of 1951)
The East Bengal Prevention of Transfer of Property and Removal of Documents and Records Act of 1952
The Pakistan (Administration of Evacuees Property) Act (XII of 1957)
The East Pakistan Disturbed Persons (Rehabilitation) Ordinance (No 1 of 1964)
The Defence of Pakistan Ordinance (No. XXIII of 6 September 1965)
The Defence of Pakistan Rules of 1965
The Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order of 1965
The East Pakistan Enemy Property (Lands and Buildings Administration and Disposal Order of 1966)
The Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provision) Ordinance No. 1 of 1969
Bangladesh (Vesting of Property and Assets) President's (Order No. 29 of 1972)
The Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provisions) (Repeal) Act (XLV of 1974)
The Vested and Non-Resident Property (Administration) Act (XLVI of 1974)
The vested and Non-Resident (Administration) (Repeal) Ordinance 1976 The Ordinance, (No. XCII of 1976)
The Ordinance No. XCIII of 1976.
On 6 November 2008, the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh delivered its Rule Nisi upon the Government on the Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provision) (Repeal) Act 1974 and subsequently promulgated Arpita Sampatty Protapyan Ain 2001 and circular, administrative orders.
The order calls upon the respondent to show cause as to why instructions issued in the contents of presidential order 29 of 1972, act 45 and 46 of 1974, ordinance No. 92, 93 of 1976, Arpita Sampatty Protapyan Ain 2001 and circulars issued by government that are in contradiction with the fundamental rights and the charter of declaration of Independence of Bangladesh, 10 April 1971, should not be declared to be ultra vires the constitution.The Rule Nisi also stated why the properties so far incorporated in the list as Enemy (Vested) property should not be returned to the title holder/successor/legal possession holders and or such other or further order or orders passed as to this Court may seem fit and proper.The Rule is made returnable within 4 weeks from 28 October 2008.
Renamed as Vested Property Act
Though renamed as the Vested Property Act in 1974, the law still retains the fundamental ability to deprive a Bangladeshi citizen of his/her property simply by declaration of that person as an enemy of the state. Leaving the country through abandonment is cited as the most common reason for this, and it is frequently the case that Hindu families who have one or several members leaving the country (due to religious atrocities against Hindus, and economic as well as political reasons) have their entire property confiscated due to labeling as enemy.
The Bangladeshi newspaper Daily Sangbad (21 March 1977) alleged that at that point in time, according to the government's own figures, 702,335 acres (2,842 km²) of cultivable land and 22,835 homes were listed as enemy property.
Much of the property of murdered Hindu politician Dhirendranath Datta was confiscated by the Bangladesh government after independence in 1971. Because Datta's body was never found after he was arrested by the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War, an affidavit was brought forward that it could not be concluded that Datta had not voluntarily left the country.
The family property of Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen had been confiscated by the Pakistan government. In 1999, the Bangladesh government announced that it was investigating opportunities to return the property to Sen's family.
Professor Barkat's seminal work
A seminal work was published in 1997 by Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, 'Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act'. This demonstrated that 925,050 Hindu households (40% of Hindu families in Bangladesh) have been affected by the Enemy Property Act. This included 748,850 families dispossessed of agricultural land. The total amount of land lost by Hindu households as a result of this discriminatory act was estimated at 1.64 million acres (6,640 km²), which is equivalent to 53 per cent of the total land owned by the Hindu community and 5.3 per cent of the total land area of Bangladesh.
The survey also showed that the beneficiaries of the land grab through the act cut across all party lines. The political affiliation of direct beneficiaries of appropriated property was:
Bangladesh Awami League 44.2%
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) 31.7%
Jatiya Party 5.8%
The greatest appropriation of Hindu property took place immediately after independence during the first Awami League government (1972–75) and during the first period of rule of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (1976-1980). Dr Barkat's work also showed that since 1948, 75% of the land of religious minorities in East Pakistan and subsequent Bangladesh had been confiscated through provisions of the act.
Dr Barkat also emphasized that less than 0.4% of the population of Bangladesh has benefited from the Enemy Property Act, demonstrating that this law has been abused by those in power through corruption, with no demonstrated sanction by the population at large.
Effect on Bangladeshi demographics
The law in its implementation has been seen as a major driver behind the reduction of the Bangladeshi Hindu population, which has declined from an estimated 30% in 1947, to 17% in 1965 to 16% today, representing a loss of around 11 million people. Most of this population left for India, while the more affluent Bangladeshi Hindus leaving due to the act have moved to USA, Canada, Europe and Australia.
Repeal of the act
During Bangladesh's first three decades of independence many politicians made empty promised to repeal the act. The first government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman vowed to repeal any laws that contradicted the values of the newly liberated country; the Enemy Property Act contravened non-communal provisions of the new constitution. But instead of being repealed it was sustained under a new name in 1974.
Finally in the run up to the 2001 election Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League succeeded in a drive to repeal the act. The Vested Properties Return Act (2001) was implemented (in a session boycoted by the opposition BNP and Jamaat members) in an effort to make amends for the confiscated property. However little progress has been made in returning or compensating lost property under the Khaleda Zia government from 2001-2006. In 2008, [HRCBM (Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities)] filed a writ before Bangladesh Supreme Court under article 102 of the constitution.
Congressman Crowley of the Bangladesh-American caucus has called for the repeal of the act, as have several Bangladeshi politicians and human rights activists. The current opposition Awami League has vowed to repeal the act if returned to power in the next elections, even though it has yet to acknowledge its own participation in implementation of the act during the 1972-75 period.
An international conference organized by several Hindu activist groups held in London on 16 June 2005 was addressed by, among others, Lord Avebury of the British House of Lords and called for repeal of the act.
The law has been highlighted by the U.S. Department of State and Amnesty International as a major human rights concern that has contributed to internal displacement, emigration and disenfranchisement.