In an unprecedented move, a high profile meeting of lawmakers yesterday rejected all proposals approved by the cabinet for amending the Vested Property Return Act 2001, saying if translated into law, it will go against the country's minority community.
Chaired by Deputy Leader of the House Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, the meeting termed the proposals unnecessary and said if enacted, the law will also destroy the basic spirit of the original act passed by the Awami League-led government in 2001, meeting sources said.
The law and land ministers, chiefs of parliamentary standing committees on law, land and education ministries and senior officials of the land ministry attended yesterday's meeting, an extraordinary one as such meeting was never held in the country's parliamentary history.
The meeting decided to enforce the act of 2001 by bringing some minor amendments to it.
A number of senior parliamentarians present at the meeting expressed surprise as to who drafted the proposals and how they managed to get the cabinet's nod, the sources said.
The cabinet approved the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act last November under which vested properties of the minority community members are supposed to be returned to them.
Incorporating the proposals, a bill was supposed to be placed in parliament on January 11, but following objections the land minister at the eleventh hour declined to submit it.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was informed about the objections and the consequences if the proposals are translated into laws. Hasina then asked the deputy leader of the house to hold a meeting with senior parliamentarians to discuss the issue, sources said.
Ranadas Gupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Khristan Oikya Parishad, was present at yesterday's meeting and placed some proposals to make the existing act more effective.
The association has been opposing the drafted proposals since they were disclosed, saying the amendments will go against the interest of the minority community of the country.
Suranjit Sengupta, chief of the parliamentary standing committee on law ministry, told The Daily Star that the act of 2001 clearly stipulates the way for transferring vested properties to their owners.
The act has a specific provision for formation of tribunals consisting of retired judges to do the task, Suranjit said. "But the bill proposed deleting this provision and introducing committees to do it."
The bill also proposed making lawmakers advisers of these committees at upazila, district and metropolitan levels.
"The proposals will create complexities if those are made laws," Rashed Khan Menon, chief of the parliamentary standing committee on education, told The Daily Star after the meeting.
The standing committee on land ministry drafted the proposals, which Suranjit termed an act beyond the committee's jurisdiction since the House had not sent the bill to it for scrutiny, a meeting source said.
Talking to The Daily Star about the fate of the bill, Suranjit said the meeting finally decided that the land minister will place it in parliament any day during the current session after scrutiny by his committee and removing unnecessary proposals.
He said some minor amendments to the act will be proposed.
The proposals include amending the definition of transferable vested properties to make its range wider and the provision that specifies the price for leasing unclaimed properties.
According to the original act, unclaimed properties may be leased at the government fixed price, which might be amended to set a token price for such lease.
The process of returning vested properties to their owners has remained stalled since the last BNP-Jamaat-led alliance government came to power in 2001.