‘Resident’ tag awaits refugees living on central government-owned land across Bengal
The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to issue certificates declaring that residents of 237 refugee colonies on central government-owned land across Bengal have been living on the respective plots for years.
The move seems to be an attempt to assuage the concerns of refugees on the central government land over the Narendra Modi government’s new citizenship matrix.
The Trinamul Congress dispensation has already started an initiative to give freehold rights to plots to the residents of 94 refugee colonies set up on state government land.
“The state would issue certificates to the residents of refugee colonies set up on central government land acknowledging that they have been living on these plots for years. This would assure the residents that the state government would fight for their cause in future,” said a senior government official.
Sources said the move to issue the certificates was initiated as the Trinamul dispensation did not want to make any distinction between refugees on plots owned by the central and state governments.
“If we regularise the colonies on state government land and do nothing for the people living on central government land, it would create a division. The state government cannot do this,” said a senior bureaucrat.
The 237 refugee colonies on 973 acres of central government land spread across Bengal have 11,986 families.
In January 2019, the Bengal government had decided to give freehold rights to the refugees on the state land. In November, the Mamata Banerjee cabinet had decided to take initiatives to regularise the refugee colonies on central government land.
The Bengal government, however, realised later that it was easier said than done as the state couldn’t give freehold rights to people living on plots in possession with the central government.
“First, the state government needs to urge the Centre to relinquish the plots to the state and then only it can give freehold rights to the residents. It could take three to four years to complete the process,” said a source.
But the ruling establishment, sources said, wanted to do something for the colonies on central government land ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls.
“The certificates would at least give some assurance to those living in refugee colonies on central government land. So far, the government could not do anything more,” said a source.
A section of the officials said issuing certificates would be a smart move as it would put pressure on the BJP-led central government on one hand and send message to the refugee families on the other.
An official explained that while the BJP was expecting that it would secure the support of Hindu refugees after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was passed in Parliament, the Trinamul government’s move may jolt the saffron party.
“Now, the Centre would be under pressure to relinquish the plots to the state. If the Centre does so, Trinamul would be the champion for the refugee families. If the Centre refuses, the BJP would be a villain. It is a smart political move,” the official added.
Sources said various district administrations had already started surveys of the refugee colonies on the central government land to determine the exact area and population. The surveys were being conducted in districts like Nadia and North 24-Parganas which have a number of refugee colonies.
“Once the surveys are completed, the state would start issuing the certificates,” said a source.