A special legal framework should be put in place by the government to protect land rights of the former enclave dwellers, who do not have any proper record of land ownership but have been living on that land for years, three rights organisations recommended yesterday.
They noted that many of the land records lay with the Indian authority across the border, and the new Bangladeshi citizens of the former Indian enclaves could not collect those documents.
The concern about the land rights of former enclave dwellers was expressed by the Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD), Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), and Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) at a joint news conference at the capital's Jatiya Press Club.
Bangladesh received 111 enclaves of 17,160.63 acre land with 44,500 people in a historic deal with India, through which the countries exchanged 165 enclaves on August 1 after 68 years, giving more than 60,000 residents of those areas citizenship rights.
To create land records of the new Bangladeshi territories, the land and agricultural ministries and upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) jointly started a land survey on October 16, which will continue till November 15.
Against the backdrop, representatives from ALRD, ASK, and TIB visited three enclaves -- Dasiarchhara, Banshkata and Balapara Khagrabari in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat and Panchagarh between August 29 and September 1 and talked to locals to understand the problems they were facing regarding land ownership.
They also collected information from two other enclaves in Panchagarh -- Dohola Khagrabari and Kotbhajni, said ABM Shamsul Huda, executive director of ALRD, while presenting their statement.
During the visit, they found that because of the difficulty in visiting India to obtain land documents, many of the land transfers were done using stamps of India and sometimes those of Bangladesh. Transfers were also made on white papers or even orally.
In some places, the lands are owned by outsiders who either bought them from the former enclave dwellers or grabbed those from minority Hindus, said AKM Bulbul Ahmed, programme officer (law) of ALRD.
"If the traditional method of land surveying is done, a concern remains that the land ownership of people of the weak sections such as women and Hindus might not be identified properly," said Sultana Kamal, executive director of ASK.
She asked those who were involved in the survey to keep these issues in mind.
In addition, those who are leaving the country are also facing problems in selling their land and property because of a lack of records, said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of TIB.
In the statement, the three organisations also recommended that the government set up a special tribunal to resolve the land disputes in the former enclaves and deploy additional law enforcers there.
SM Abraham Lincoln, president of Kurigram Bar Association, called for passing a law to give the locally used land transfer documents of the former enclave dwellers a legal basis.