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Kolkata: In NRC-wary refugee colonies, cheer and doubt over CM land right promise

Though most of them have voter I-card, PAN card, Aadhaar card and other relevant documents as well as pucca houses, they see NRC as the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata | Published: December 1, 2019 5:30:35 am
Tarun Dey with his wife at their residence. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

In the refugee colonies dotting the northern and southern fringes of Kolkata, the news that refugees, who migrated mostly from Bangladesh during the 1947 Partition and in months before 1971 India-Pakistan War, will be given land rights by the TMC-led state government has brought some cheer to the residents, but at the same time they are also wary of the Central government’s plan to carry out the contentious NRC (National Register of Citizens) to “weed out illegal immigrants”.

Though most of them have voter I-card, PAN card, Aadhaar card and other relevant documents as well as pucca houses, they see NRC as the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

The closed office of Bastuhara Kalyan Samity in Vidyasagar Colony. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

“We are tense because of the NRC,” says Subrata Duttagupta, a resident of Nazrul Palli, a refugee colony in Rajpur-Sonarpur area of the city.

Duttagupta’s father had migrated from Dhaka in Bangladesh nearly 100 years ago. Most of the residents of Nazrul Palli had come to India from Bangladesh after Independence, and are currently doing business or employed in the government and private sector.

“Those who have refugee certificate can prove their citizenship. But many of us do not have refugee certificates, either. So, if the NRC happens, people like me who don’t have any document, will be left in a lurch,” adds Tarun Dey (54), a neighbour of Duttagupta. Tarun’s father came from Bangladesh after Independence. His wife, Bhaswati Dey, came from Jashore in Bangladesh and is now a school inspector.

Shrabani Mondol, another resident of the refugee colony, quickly adds, “If Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) give us this land right, then we will have at least some documents to prove our citizenship.”

Last Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced to regularise all the refugee settlements and give land rights to the occupants, saying, “It has been a long time now — nearly 50 years. Since (March) 1971, they have been left hanging without a home or land. I believe refugees have the right.”

Her announcement came days after Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah told Parliament that NRC would be implemented across the country. Meanwhile, the BJP government in Assam have rejected the NRC exercise that left out over 19 lakh people, mostly Hindus, from the citizens’ register, much to the ruling party’s dismay. It is to be mentioned here that the after the Assam NRC excluded over 19 lakh people, a panic gripped neighbouring West Bengal, where the BJP has been constantly calling for the implementation of NRC as its poll promise.

Residents of these refugee colonies, named after freedom fighters and nationalist leaders like Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (Vidyasagar Colony), Mahatma Gandhi (Bapujinagar) Subhash Chandra Bose (Netaji Nagar), however, are not sure of they will get land rights as promised by the Chief Minister. “Everybody, staying here wants land rights. But we are not sure of that. Because in our past experience, every political party, including the TMC promised to give us the land patta but failed,” says a 40-year-old resident of Nazrul Palli, Subrata Debnath.

However, many residents feel that if Mamata is able to hand over them land rights, then her “popularity will touch the sky”.

“We are trying to regularise this land for more than 10 years. The local municipality and Land Revenue Department gave us assurance many times but failed to regularise it. If Mamata Benerjee’s government gives us this opportunity, it will be very helpful to us,” says Ashish Ghosh, a resident of Kshudiram Palli.

A local TMC leader Nisith Chakraborty, who is also a resident of a refugee colony — Vidyasagar Colony, is hopeful that the state government, this time, would fulfill their aspirations. “Maximum number of residents of the refugee colonies have got land patta. But few’of them didn’t got because of red tape and delay by Refugee and Rehabilitation Department. We are very optimistic that after C’ief Minister’s announcement they will get th” land right,” says Chakraborty.

The earliest refugee colony that came up in Kolkata was Bijoygarh, which was established in 1948 in an abandoned military barrack in Jadavpur area of south Kolkata.

There were 149 squatter colonies in and around the city by the end of 1950. In the next 20 years, another 175 squatter colonies came up in the state.

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