The Bangladesh Cabinet has approved the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act 2009 for restoring property seized from minority groups, mainly from Hindus, during the united Pakistan era.

The law will now be placed before Parliament. The proposed law is meant to redress the long-disputed Vested Property Act, originally introduced by the Pakistani government in the 1960s, and which still gives the state power to deprive a Bangladeshi citizen of property.

Land and other property left behind during the partition in 1947 and during the 1965 India-Pakistan war were all vested in state ownership by enacting the Vested Property Act after Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. Earlier, the Pakistani government had declared as “enemy property” the land and property abandoned by Hindus following the 1965 India-Pakistan war, enacting Enemy Property Act .

The law, which changed its named after Bangladesh was created, has long been criticised as a major violation of the rights of citizens, especially minorities, who have had property seized in the past simply on leaving the country.

Awami initiative

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 property in order to take steps to restore falsely seized lands.

The subsequent BNP government amended the bill replacing the 180-day deadline with an “indefinite period.” The list was never completed.

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.

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