Successive governments have made many land-related laws over the years but those have failed to establish people's land rights, speakers said at a seminar yesterday.
The country now has 146 land-related laws that are causing endless sufferings to people, as many of those are either too complex or contradictory to one another.
The governments at times took initiatives to reduce people's sufferings but they didn't succeed most of the time due to bureaucratic tangles, they said.
If the present government doesn't reform the laws with a people-oriented approach, it would not be possible to establish land rights of the vulnerable group that includes women, indigenous communities and marginal people, according to the speakers.
Prof Abul Barkat presented the keynote speech on “Land Laws of Bangladesh: A Right-based Analysis and Proposed Changes” at the seminar organised by Manusher Jonno Foundation at The Daily Star Centre in the capital.
Around 59 percent of the country's population are landless. If the government fails to establish people's land rights, marginal people would not benefit from the country's economic growth, said Barkat.
Even if Bangladesh becomes a middle-income country, people wouldn't gain from it if their land rights are not established, he said.
Barkat led a team of researchers that analysed all 146 land-related laws dividing those in 20 categories. The team suggested that the government draft nine new laws and reforms 11 laws.
He said they proposed making a law that would not allow any individual to posses more than 40 bighas of agricultural land and 20 bighas of non-agricultural land.
The number of cases and complications over land issues are increasing every day, he said.
People have to spend around Tk 24,860 crore a year to resolve these cases. Disposal of a case takes nine and a half years on average, meaning it would require 2.70 crore years to dispose of the 25 lakh pending cases, he added.
Land Minister Shamsur Rahman Sharif, who was present as chief guest, said land is the main cause of conflicts and filing of cases.
The government is sincere in resolving land-related problems and establishing land rights of the poor and marginal people. But it has not been able to do so because of many age-old problems and legal tangles it inherited from its predecessors, he said.
Even in his constituency, there are Hindu families whose land became vested property, said the minister.
Citing an example, he said though the members of a Hindu family whom he knows personally still live in his constituency, their land was recorded as vested property in official documents.
Rajshahi Lawmaker Fazle Hossain Badsha, who was present as special guest, said indigenous people have been going through untold sufferings over land issues.
It is difficult for marginal, poor and indigenous people to protect their land under the existing system, he said.
The government should make an arrangement which would protect the interest of poor indigenous people, said Badsha, also convener of the parliamentary caucus on indigenous people.
Advocate Rana Dasgupta, prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal, said the vested property act goes against the spirit of the Liberation War, but successive governments kept that law. And vested groups have grabbed lands of thousands of Hindu families, taking advantage of that law.
The present government seems eager to settle the issue and return vested properties to their real owners. But bureaucrats created many problems and even ignored orders of the prime minister in many cases, said Rana.
Another special guest, lawmaker Sagufta Yasmin Emily, said it is not easy to resolve land-related problems. Bureaucrats don't want to resolve many problems because they wish to benefit from those.
Sagufta said she wanted to provide land to landless people in her constituency but couldn't do so in many cases because of some bureaucrats who didn't want that to happen.
Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam, who moderated the session, said a land grabber cannot be more powerful than the state.
Mentioning that the present government has already made many progressive laws, she hoped that the government would reform the land-related laws.