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By Raihan Rahman Rafid

Land disputes and problems in land management have prevailed in Bangladesh for a long time, due to apathy of the administration and inadequate development made in the legislation. Moreover, land has always been used as a tool for extortion and discrimination and even now, property rights are being violated owing to political reasons.

A symposium was held under the title “Constitutional Property Clause and Land Reform in Bangladesh: Lessons from India and South Africa” on January 20, 2018. The program was organized by Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). Mr. Justice Md. Nizamul Haq, Former Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, presided the event in presence of other distinguished guests and speakers.

Dr. Rumana Islam, Professor of Law, Department of Law, University of Dhaka & Assistant Director (Research for Law) BILIA welcomed everyone and at the very onset, she introduced the guests. She then formally invited the keynote speaker to present his paper and share the findings.

Dr. S. M. Masum Billah presented his paper on “Constitutional Property Clause and Land Reform in Bangladesh: Lessons from India and South Africa”. Dr. Billah claimed that land reform in Bangladesh is a constitutionally forgotten issue. He further illustrated the provisions of the Constitution regarding property and rights in his speech.

Dr. Billah believes that land reform has not had the attention as much as it deserved, considering the century-old land right related sufferings in the subcontinent. He considered the laws of India and South Africa to be an example for our country on how the land reform could have been done. He talked about negative and positive rights in and over property as per the Constitution. His speech also addressed issues including; ambiguity in the notion of property, private and public property dichotomy, limited scope of judicial review.

Public purpose is considered as the ‘reasonableness’ in the acquisition of property. But, although the Constitution allows acquisition by the State, the notion of public purpose has not been defined in any of the laws, unfortunately. Professor Billah identified that there is a presumption of existence of ‘public purpose’ despite the absence of any ground to dispel such cause. Professor Dr. S. M. Masum Billah demarcated public interest and public purpose as laid down in the Constitution of South Africa. He summarily drew a distinction between land reform in Bangladesh with the laws of India and South Africa.

Among other Designated discussants, Mr. Samsul Huda, Executive Director, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), was then asked to share his observations. He raised question against the implementation of laws by the government, especially the ineffectiveness of laws related to land ceiling. The management of Khas lands and their proper utilization was pointed out as a solution in land reform by the speaker.

Dr. Zafarullah Chowdhury attributed the present whammy condition to our lack of self-initiative when he was requested to put his comment on the issue. He thinks that over reliability on the government has left such flaws over the legal system. Barrister Tania Amir was later invited to present her speech. She emphasized on the land laws rather than the Constitutional provisions, as she believes that the laws related to land need to be studied more. Prioritizing the establishment of equality in every sphere, she preconditioned social reform for other changes.

Afterwards, Barrister Amir Ul Islam spoke briefly on his experience in drafting the Constitutional documents. He opined that the land related documents should be drafted by professionals and suggested that concerned persons such as Dr. Billah and Mr. Samsul Huda should work together to bring about changes. Congratulating Dr. S. M. Masum Billah for his impeccable work and research, he ended the insightful speech. J. Nizamul Haq soon concluded the symposium after an open discussion session where everyone expressed their expectations and relevant experience in own field of work.