Mamata Banerjee gives land deeds to refugees; violation of poll code, cries BJP

Published on Feb 10, 2022 11:49 PM IST

In November 2019, the state cabinet decided to hand over land rights to those refugees who came to West Bengal for shelter after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War but were still living on land that belonged to the state, the Centre or private owners. This was seen at that time as a bid by the Trinamool to counter the Centre’s decision to enforce the National Register for Citizens (NRC).

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee distributes freehold title deeds of plots (pattas) to 2000 residents of various colonies from West Bengal at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata on Thursday. (SAMIR JANA/HT PHOTO.)
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee distributes freehold title deeds of plots (pattas) to 2000 residents of various colonies from West Bengal at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata on Thursday. (SAMIR JANA/HT PHOTO.)

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday distributed titles to freehold land among nearly 2000 refugee families living across the state, prompting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to allege that she had violated the code of conduct in place for the polls at four civic bodies on February 12 and at 108 more municipalities on February 27.

The deeds grant permanent ownership rights to these families, but the state’s amended laws allow owners to build houses or sell the land after 10 years, state chief secretary H K Dwivedi said at the official programme held in Kolkata.

In November 2019, the state cabinet decided to hand over land rights to those refugees who came to West Bengal for shelter after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War but were still living on land that belonged to the state, the Centre or private owners. This was seen at that time as a bid by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to counter the Central government’s decision to enforce the National Register for Citizens (NRC) that Banerjee opposed after its enforcement in Assam.

Addressing the families on Thursday, Banerjee said: “We have granted land title to 27,000 families in three years and given recognition to 261 refugee colonies. Laws have been passed to stop eviction of those who have settled down on land owned by the Central government and private owners. Members of the Matua community will also get land rights. Some people have done a lot of politics with them.”

Banerjee’s reference to the Matuas - who comprise a section of the large number of Hindu Dalits who migrated from Bangladesh to escape religious persecution - prompted the BJP to hit back since it is banking on the support of these voters in the civic polls.

All India Matua Mahasangha president and BJP Lok Sabha member Shantanu Thakur was made a Union minister of state last year. Last month, Thakur accused the Bengal BJP unit of ignoring the Matuas, whose support helped the party bag several Lok Sabha and assembly seats in 2019 and 2021 respectively. Thakur has demanded immediate implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that offers citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. The TMC has opposed the law.

Among Thursday’s recipients of the land deeds, several were Muslims, officials said. Muhammad Jamal, who lives in Howrah district, received his documents directly from the chief minister.

Leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, who was busy campaigning for the civic polls, accused Banerjee of eyeing the refugee vote bank.

“Let me make it clear, firstly I am not against the handing over of freehold title deeds to residents of refugee colonies. Why couldn’t it be done earlier? As the Model Code of Conduct is in place now, it should be done after 27th February,” tweeted Adhikari.

“CM @MamataOfficial is trying to gain electoral dividends by grossly violating the Model Code of Conduct just before the municipal corporation and municipality elections. WB State Election Commissioner is voluntarily blindfolded for the convenience of the ruling party,” he wrote in a second tweet.

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