A day after the state government passed a Bill to hand over Indian deeds to landholders in former Bangladeshi enclaves, dwellers of such areas said they are happy but sceptical about whether it will be properly implemented at the grassroot level.
On August 1, 2015, 14,856 people living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves became part of India. Indian deeds for their land eluded them till date, making it impossible for them to buy, sell or get farming loans for their land.
On October 31, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Cooch Behar and asked officials to arrange land deeds for dwellers of former enclaves. Following this, the Assembly passed the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill 2018 unopposed, paving the way for handing over deeds to landholders. It was moved by Trinamool Congress MLA and Minister of State for Law and Health Chandrima Bhattacharya.
The chief minister had said the “historic bill” would help former enclave dwellers to get full-fledged status as citizens of India.
“We are happy the government is doing something and a Bill was passed. But at the grassroot level, we are not sure when and how this will happen… There is a lot of land forcibly acquired by people. There are people who have Bangladeshi papers but the land is under the control of someone else. Large tracts of land are not demarcated properly,” said Rahman Ali of Pouturkuthi, one of the largest such areas.
“Due to lack of Indian papers, people here could not sell or buy land. Nor can people obtain loans for farming or apply for proper irrigation facilities under government schemes. Almost all schemes for farmers are unreachable here,” added Rahman, whose family has nearly nine bigha of land.
“We had demanded Lok Adalat be put up in the villages where land disputes would have been cleared faster. But now it seems, after the deeds are handed over, most people will go to court to settle their disputes,” he said.
Residents also pointed out that by the end of 2016, state government officials had visited and surveyed the areas. “It has been over three years, but we are happy that finally something is being done… Officers came to the village and asked families how much land they owned. In some parts, land was surveyed. But proper land survey and demarcations are yet to be done. There are a lot of land disputes too,” said Roushan Sarkar, a resident of Batrigach enclave (former) and a BA student in Dinhata college.
“There are so many government schemes but we are yet to get benefits properly. We were promised toilets under the Swachh Bharat scheme. But that only happened for a few families in each village. Some of us used our own money and set up toilets… We still have no means of drinking water or a proper drainage system” said Pradip Burman, who has two-and-a-half bigha of land at Kokoyabari.
“I believe the move is to woo the nearly 15,000 voters of the area before polls. There are a lot of property disputes and complexities. Just handing over deeds, that too after three years, is not the solution,” said Diptiman Sengupta, previously the convener of the former Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Co-ordination Committee and now a BJP leader.
“The deeds will soon be handed over. We have set up roads, solar-powered irrigation systems in all former enclaves. A majority have been brought under government schemes,” said North Bengal Development Minister Rabindranath Ghosh.