*Note: Victim/Beneficiary’s names in all case studies have been replaced with pseudonyms.
Case Study (2004): Land Dispute Litigation
Yatin of Vangura, Pabna is a very poor farmer. He inherited 40 decimals of land and decided to build a house and cultivate some of this land. However, the co-sharers of his inheritance, who were also influential in the local community, wanted to dispossess Yatin of this land. They filed an Other Class Suit No.47 of 2004 before the Assistant Judge Court, Pabna on 8 May 2004. Unfortunately, Yatin was not able to establish his right, title, interest and possession of the land in court and was deprived of its possession. On 18 November 2004, he came to the BLAST Pabna Unit Office and sought legal assistance.
After reviewing Yatin’s case, the Pabna Unit Office decided to provide him legal aid and appointed a Panel Lawyer to his case. On 23 November 2004 the BLAST Panel Lawyer submitted a written statement on behalf of Yatin to the court. After a long delay, the hearing commenced on 12 January 2014 and the court dismissed the case against Yatin and freed him of the false charges. BLAST followed up with Yatin after the dismissal of his case and he informed BLAST that he now has peaceful possession of his land.
Case Study (2013): PIL on Property Rights of Religious Minorities
(W.P. No: 5140/2013)
The Vested Property Act 1974 was a highly controversial law that effectively allowed the Government to appropriate property from individuals it deemed to be an enemy of the state. The abuse of laws by the government and its agencies deprived religious minorities of their land continued post independence. The Act was repealed and replaced with the Vested Properties Return Act, 2011.
In an effort to restore the confiscated property to its rightful owners, campaign groups and affected communities, however, noted significant gaps and inconsistencies in the law. The Act appeared to contradict the basic spirit of the Proclamation of Independence of Bangladesh and certain constitutional rights. Specifically, Section 26 of the Act, after the expiry of 300 days of the publication of the gazette notifications containing the final “A” and “B’’ Schedules respectively to the Act, the government was to be the owner of the property if the property is not claimed within the stipulated time after being entered into the list of returnable property. To ensure equal protection of law among citizens and their constitutional right to private ownership, the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), BLAST and the other core organisations that had been involved in campaigning for the new law filed a Writ Petition being W.P No. 5140/2013 for a declaration that some provisions of the said Act are unconstitutional.
The petitioners argued that several provisions of the Vested Properties Return Act 2011 (as amended in 2011 and 2012) are ultra vires [beyond the terms] of the Constitution and in violation of fundamental rights. They further argued that the impugned provisions of the said Act are also in conflict with earlier judgments of our highest courts. The petitioners submitted that Section 26 will cause irreparable loss to the minority people as they may not be able to claim the property within the stipulated time due to various reasons. For example, there is a concern that vested interests, including government officials, may avail of this opportunity to appropriate “vested properties.”
On 5 July, 2013, a Division Bench of the High Court issued a Rule Nisi upon the respondents to show cause as to why the declaration of the Schedule of Property contained in the “Ka” Gazette under the category of 2 (Nioh) of the Vested Property Return Act 2001 (as amended up to date) should not be declared to have been made without lawful authority and be of no legal effect. There was no interim order issued. Armed with the direction of the aforesaid Writ Petition, BLAST collaborated with the Hindu Bouddho Christho Oikko Porishod [Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council], ASK and other professionals, academics and civil society organizations to campaign to amend the provision of the Vested Properties Return Act 2001. Against this backdrop, the Government was compelled to pass the Vested Properties Return Act 2001 (as amended in 2013) cancelling the Schedule ‘B”. According to the new amendment, all cases challenging the ownership of the property on the schedule-B will no longer exist and all previous judgments and decrees of the cases relating to the property of the schedule-B will be cancelled.
BLAST, in collaboration with other organizations and strong networks was able to defend the rights of minorities to private property by petitioning against the new law that could potentially lead to denial of liberty as well as economic and political deprivation.
Case Study (2015): PIL on Forced Eviction of landless people in Nilfamari
(Writ Petition No.: 1111/2015)
In the year of 1997 the Government decided to lease out Khas land to the landless people in Bangladesh, and to this end, on 16.04.1997 circulated “Agricultural Khas Land Management and Allotment Guidelines.” Pursuant to this Policy and Guideline, the Government leased out some Khas land to the landless people residing at Domar in Nilfamari, and executed and registered the Kabuliyat deed in their name. Now, at least fifty six (56) landless people have been residing at the Upazilla of Domar in Nilfamari, which have been allocated to those people through registered Kabuliyat deed. But the respondents to this Writ Petition failed to handover peaceful possession of the said Khas lands.
The petitioners’ lawyer submitted that the said Khas lands have already been allocated to the fifty six (56) landless persons by the Government under the aforesaid policy and guidelines. Moreover, transfer of these khas lands have been registered in their name. Hence, the Government is under a legal obligation to give possession of those khas lands to them. The petitioners have a constitutional right to be treated in accordance with law, as guaranteed under Articles 27 and 31 of the Constitution.
On 18th February, 2015 the High Court issued a rule asking several government authorities to explain why a direction should not be issued upon them to hand over peaceful possession of Khas lands. A Division Bench, comprising of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Mustafa Zaman Islam passed the order upon hearing a Writ Petition (WP No. 1111/2015) filed in the public interest by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), Action Aid Bangladesh, Nijera Kori and Transparency International Bangladesh, including 56 (fifty six) landless people).
The Court asked the respondents to explain in four weeks why they should not be directed to handover peaceful possession of the said lands to those 56 (fifty) petitioners.
The case is currently pending for hearing.